The Dvâdashânta – Deep Watching

By Linda Oshins

The practice I’m about to describe is actually a meditation practice, but since it involves closely watching an aspect of the breath, I teach it in pranayama class. It is one among several practices that I think of as “deep watching” or “deep listening,” ones that can teach you to “hear” or “feel” subtle body landmarks or to question your very nature. It is a meditation upon the dvâdashânta.  The inner dvâdashânta is located in the heart center and the outer dvâdashânta is located about 12 finger-widths from the tip of the nose along the line the breath takes as it leaves the nostrils. In my case that ends up being about 4 inches in front of the breast bone. There is also an upper dvâdashânta above the crown of the head, but it is not a focus in the particular practice described here. Regarding the inner and outer dvâdashânta, “When the breath pauses in each of these two spaces, the activity of prana and thus the mind ceases for a moment, and your breath will seem to vanish.[1]

Verses from the Vijnana Bhairava Tantra as translated by Jaideva Singh[2]

25. If one fixes one’s mind carefully on the two void spaces of the breath, one internal, when the inhalation pauses momentarily inside the Heart; and one external, when the exhalation pauses momentarily outside in the dvadasanta then, O Goddess, the Bhairava (the experience of the Absolute) will reveal herself, the marvelous and essential form of Bhairava.

26. When the energy in the form of the breath neither goes out from the center of the body to the dvadasanta nor comes back in to the center from the dvadasanta, then it simply expands in the center into a non dual, non discursive awareness. This is the attainment of the condition of Bhairava.

You could focus your attention on any one of these three points, but in this practice you “watch” the outer dvadashanta on the exhalation and the inner one on the inhalation.

  1. Sit in a comfortable position, either cross-legged on the floor, on props, or on a meditation cushion or bench. You may also sit in a chair, but sit upright without leaning against the back of the chair.
  2. Begin by watching the breath just as it is without criticizing it or yourself. Just watching. Just accepting.
  3. Find the internal point, which is about 12 finger-widths from the tip of the nose to the heart. Sense this point. Sometimes it pops right into your awareness and is distinctly felt. If that is not the case, just imagine its location and focus there.
  4. Find the external point, 12 finger-widths below the nostrils and external to the physical body. Again, if you don’t feel an external point, just imagine it’s there. In working with the subtle body, acting “as if” is useful until the practices become more concrete for you. Act as if you have a distinct sensation of these two points. Don’t worry about whether you are doing it “right.”
  5. On the inhalation, sense the internal dvâdashânta.
  6. On the exhalation, sense the external dvâdashânta.
  7. Move from one point to the other as the breath enters and leaves the body.
  8. Do this practice for at least 5 minutes or as long as you like. As in all such practices, if the mind wanders, simply bring it back to the point of focus.
  9. At the end of the meditation, return to the natural breath. In this case, the natural breath is defined as the breath your body takes without you applying any given technique. The body breathing itself.

What is inner? What is outer? Do you have boundaries? Are you boundless?

This is a practice that, for many beginners, introduces the variation in the boundaries of the physical body and the energy body. On a more profound level it invites us to expand beyond our concept of ourselves as bodies at all.

25. Attend to the skin
As a subtle boundary
Containing vastness.

Enter that shimmering pulsing vastness.
Discover that you are not separate
From anything there.
There is no inside.
There is not outside.
There is no other,
No object to meditate upon that is not you.[3]


[1] Refining the Breath, Doug Keller
[2]
Vijnanabhairava or Divine Consciousness, translated by Jaideva Singh
[3]
The Radiance Sutras, translation by Lorin Roche

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Featured Teacher: Katherine Yannucci

Why do you practice
It helps me on my spiritual journey and keeps my body and mind flexible.  It also helps me to relax.

Why do you teach?
I LOVE YOGA and I love sharing the benefits of yoga with others.  If I can positively influence more people thru this practice, I am all for it!  I can’t imagine staying quiet about something that can be so helpful to so many people.

Inspirations?
The following teachers who practice Ahimsa on a daily basis with their vegan diet and who make it an important part of their yoga practice.
David Life and Sharon Gannon from Jivamukti Yoga
Dharma Mittra from Dharma Yoga Center
Rossella Rossi-my first yoga mentor

Who have you trained with?
Rossella Rossi, Rodney Yee, Cyndi Lee, Sarah Powers, Paul Grilley, Doug Keller, Gary Kraftsow, Richard Freeman, and many others

What style do you teach?
Vinyasa Yoga, Yin Yoga and Yin-Yang Yoga (a combination of Yin and Vinyasa)

What’s your favorite food?
Indian Food

What’s your nickname?
Kathy or Katica-my Colombian family has always called me by this name.  It means “little Kathy.”

Do you own any animals?
Yes.  I have 2 yellow English Labradors named Zen and Rocco.

What’s on your playlist right now?
“Pilgrim Heart” album by Krishna Das

What’s your favorite yoga accessory?
My purple lite Manduka yoga mat

What style influences your teaching?
Vinyasa by Rossella Rossi and Yin Yoga by Sarah Powers

Favorite yoga pose?
Triangle pose

Favorite quote?

“Be the change you wish to see in the world.” -Mahatma Gandhi

What is your favorite TV show of all time?
I don’t watch a lot of TV now, but when I was younger I used to like “Three’s Company.”

What would you call yourself if you could choose your own name?
I like my given name so I wouldn’t change it.

Your favorite item of clothing?
My KATICA yoga pants that I designed

What did you want to be when you were little?
A social worker or someone who can help people.

In the animal kingdom, which animal would you be? Why?
A monkey.  I love trees and used to enjoy climbing them as a child.  I also think it would be fun to swing from tree to tree.

Best trip you’ve taken, or dream trip you’d like to take?
Greece for my honeymoon.  We went to Mykonos, Santorini and Athens.  I loved the people, the food, and the sights.  What a beautiful country!!

What word describes you best?
Passionate

What drives you every day?
The wish to live a long and healthy life for myself and my family.

Whom do you admire?
People who take care of their health and especially people who make significant changes in their life to be healthier.  My motto is “don’t complain if you aren’t willing to do something about it.”

What is your mission?

“To design a lifestyle that inspires change.” 

What is the kindest thing anyone has done for you?
Two of my neighbors whom I didn’t know that well at that time, took me by surprise when they offered to host a baby shower for me when we adopted my son, Andres.  It was really special and almost all of our neighbors attended.

Fun fact about you?
True to my Colombian roots, I LOVE to dance salsa and merengue.

What books are you reading right now?
A parenting book called “It’s Okay Not to Share.”

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Anahata Food Project Spring 2013

By Marcia Miller

Last week, the coordinators of the Anahata Food Project had our first meeting. We are excited to order seeds and get together for the first big work party of the season (Saturday, March 30 from noon to 2).  We planned what we would grow and which extra projects to do this year.

Right after that meeting I was talking to a friend who had helped us a couple of years ago and she asked if we were still involved. I felt amazed and grateful that so many of us have been working together since the beginning of the garden. And that new people join us each year to add meaning and service to their already busy lives.

Then my friend imagined the huge impact we have had on the food pantries we serve.  It is true that we have grown and delivered nearly 7 tons of organic produce since we started this project.  And while 14,000 pounds of produce IS a lot, I’m not really sure of the impact.  We grow and offer the food freely. In one pantry they divide up whatever food we bring so that most families get something fresh—sometimes only a quart of food per family, though at the height of the season it can be much more. And just because someone takes the food home does not mean it gets eaten.  Turns out there are lots of hurdles to getting fresh vegetables into the bellies of low income families. Some don’t have gas or electricity to cook with. Others don’t have pots and pans or don’t know how to cook vegetables so that they are nutritious and delicious.  Some families in need can’t even get to the food pantry for lack of transportation.

Still, there are many reasons that keep me inspired in what we are doing.

  1. It is so good for us!  Getting outside, in the fresh air, doing the physical labor with friends (or soon to be friends) is pure joy.  We can see the vast width of the sky and the weather patterns moving across it.  We occasionally visited by Kevin’s chickens and can see his cows from the garden.  There is a pond nearby that hosts migrating birds in the spring and fall and is home to many families of birds, frogs and fish during the summer.  We are surrounded by the sounds of nature which act like a healing balm to my soul.
  2. It’s good for the people who are using the food pantries once they get the food!  People who may not have access to good quality produce get some at least occasionally.
  3. The sense of working on behalf of others is a powerful tonic for the heart.  This is where the word Anahata comes from; it is the Sanskrit word for heart center.  It’s healthy for the volunteers beyond the obvious benefits of physical exercise.  The caring that we experience toward others reminds us that they are really not “the other”—they are us.  We value fresh, live, organic food so we do what we can to ensure everyone can have it.
  4. The magic of mattering.  I like to think that the people in the pantry wonder about us the way we wonder about them.  Who are these people spending so much time in the dirt working so hard, going far out of their way to bring some carrots and a bag of greens to them?  I hope they feel a sense that they matter to us even when we haven’t met.  For me this is part of the mystery of living this life together—we are connected—sometimes we can see it and feel it personally, other times we see the evidence before us—like a bag of greens.

Volunteer Details:  if you would like to work with us regularly or even occasionally please join us on Saturday, March 30, from noon to 2:00p for our first work session—a “Come to the Garden Party,” as volunteer Ann Janiak is calling it.  After that our main work day will be Sunday—we’ll meet earlier in the day as the temperature rises. Later in the season we’ll add a weekday morning session (either Tuesday or Wednesday) and a Thursday evening session as well. If you would like to volunteer,  send me an email and I will add you to our list  and you will received occasional emails with work dates and times.  Marcia@yogaonhigh.com.  I’ll also send you the farm’s address and location and my cell phone number in case you get lost.  We are only 15 minutes west of downtown!  Like us on Facebook or check out our webpage.

 

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Featured Teacher: Tom Griffith

Why do you practice?
I feel better on every level with each day.

Why do you teach?
I absolutely love it. Very literally helping others to help themselves, what better way to share ones passion?

Inspirations?
Martha and Jerry Marcom, the love, compassion and skill with which they live life in addition to their dedication to teaching and practicing Ashtanga yoga. I have watched as they have both shared this practice with so many happy people. I have also watched as they have both profoundly healed physically and all kidding aside aged gracefully as a result of practice and non-attachment.

Who have you trained with?
The Marcoms, Linda Oshins, Marcia Miller. For Ashtanga specifically Tim Miller every April at Yohi since 2005 (except one), Richard Freeman for a week long teacher training in 2007 and just last year here in Columbus, Maty Ezraty and a little with David Swenson and Manju Jois. So many great teachers at Yohi past and present.

What style do you teach?
Ashtanga but as they say around the studio I go both ways. I love to break things down into doable bits so that what may in fact be difficult becomes more approachable with a different perspective.

What’s your favorite food?
Southern BBQ.

What’s your nickname?
Tall Tom, Tbird and Tag. About three people in the world call me Tommy.

Do you own any animals?
I live with a cat called Persephone.

What’s on your playlist right now?
About this time of year I have Krishna Das’ Flow of Grace on constant rotation in the car.

What’s your favorite yoga accessory?
The half block. What can’t it do?

What style influences your teaching?
Tim Miller’s Surya Namaskara C and Richard Freeman’s metaphors have allowed me to stay rooted in my personal Ashtanga practice but to present what I know in fun yet challenging ways. Somewhere in there is a consistent repeated practice that is similar enough each week to know what changes (and what doesn’t) and subtle enough to stay with the experience long enough to experience it.

Favorite yoga pose?
This week, Bhujapidasana-arm pressure pose.

Favorite quote?

“Spread the toes of your buttocks.” -- Freeman

What is your favorite TV show of all time?
Looney Tunes

What would you call yourself if you could choose your own name?
Tom

Your favorite item of clothing?
Blue leather blazer jacket.

What did you want to be when you were little?
Professional skateboarder / photographer.

In the animal kingdom, which animal would you be?
Flying squirrel
Why?
Ok, maybe flying monkey.

Best trip you’ve taken, or dream trip you’d like to take?
Honeymoon in Prague.

What word describes you best?
agreeable

What drives you every day?
love

Whom do you admire?
Teachers

What is your mission?
To learn and help others

What is the kindest thing anyone has done for you?
It is a very long story but the answer is bought me a leather jacket.

Fun fact about you?
Rymocerous

What books are you reading right now?
Just finished a reread of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods.

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Pose of the Moment – Bakasana

As a new contribution to our blog we will be doing a Pose of the Moment. Moreover, on any given day, if you visit one of my Vinyasa or Hot Yoga classes you may just find the pose in the yoga sequence! One of the definitions of Vinyasa yoga is to place in a special way. Personally, the poses I share with you will be thoughtfully placed into my sequences using preparatory asanas that open and stabilize the body. In these articles in addition to looking at preparatory poses we will review the anatomy of the pose, modifications, what the asana is a preparatory pose for, counter poses and possible therapeutic and emotional benefits. I hope you find the information useful and I look forward to seeing you in class.

by Jasmine Grace

Pose of the Moment
Have you been to one of my classes lately? If not in almost every class I have been working on Bakasana. Have fun exploring this fun pose!

Sanskrit Name: Bakasana

Other Name/s: Crane or crow

Instruction to Come Into the Pose:

  1. Squat down and place palms flat on the floor with middle fingers facing forward. Elbows can be bent.
  2. Bring knees high onto upper arms and as close to the armpits as possible.
  3. Come to the tippy toes with feet coming close together. Squeeze the knees into the armpits and lift the feet, lift the pelvic floor, and straighten arms as much as possible.
  4. Gaze forward down the nose.

Modifications and Playing with the Pose:
I like to practice this at home with pillows in front of me for crash landings. It helps with the fear factor.

If you are still building strength, try to lift one foot of the floor at a time and work on the stabilizing poses listed below.

You can also place a block under your feet to get the height. Then try a lift feet of block.

As always, practice daily and build strength, coordination and confidence.

Play with the concept apana (downward) prana (upward). Ground (apana) through the hands to and finding lightness in the pelvic floor and feet.

Gaze/Drishti: Tip of nose

Anatomy & Preparatory Poses:

What needs to be open:
Hip extensors, Ankle dorsiflexors, back extensors, shoulder elevators and retractors, wrist flexors.

Marichysana A

Preparatory Asanas for Opening:
Balasana (child’s pose), Bidalasana (Cat Pose), Garudasana (Eagle Pose), Malasana (Garland Pose), Marichysana A (Sage Marichi’s Pose), Prasarita Padottanasana A (Spread-Leg Forward Fold Pose A), Uttana Prasithasana (Flying Lizard Pose), Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend).

What needs to be stable:
Wrist synergists, elbow synergists, shoulder stabilizers, external rotators of the arm, chest, abdominals, hop adductors and flexors, pelvic floor, knee flexors.

Preparatory Asanas for Stabilizing:
Adho Mukha Svanasana (Down Dog), Garudasana (Eagle Pose), Chaturunga Dandasana (Four-Limbed Staff Pose), Malasana (Garland Pose), Navasana (Boat Pose), Phalakasana (Plank Pose),  Marichysana A (Sage Marichi’s Pose), Bidalasana (Cat Pose).

This Asana Prepares You For:
Tittibsana (Firefly), Parsva Bakasana (Side Crane/Crow), Eka pada Koundinyasana (One-leg Sage Koundinya’s Pose), Sirsasana II series (Tripod Headstand), transition pose by hopping from Arho Mukha Svanasana (Down Dog).

Counterposes:
Balasana (Child’s Pose), Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward-facing Dog), Adho Mukha Svanasana (Down Dog), Wrist Stretches, Vinyasa.

Resources: Stephens, Mark. 2012. Yoga Sequencing; Designing Transformative Yoga Classes. Berkeley, CA : North Atlantic Books
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Featured Teacher: Janet Braden

Why do you practice?
I practice to become a better person.  Practicing yoga brings me a deeper sense of calm, inner strength, balance and a clearer perspective on EVERYTHING.  I have more to offer others when I practice.

Why do you teach?
I want to share all of the benefits that I gain from yoga (and Pilates) with others.

Inspirations?
I am inspired by my family -- my husband and two children.  I am inspired by my students, my teachers, my friends and nature.

Who have you trained with?
Linda, Marcia and Martha and the rest of the amazing teachers at YoHi.   Tim Miller, Maty Ezraty, Cyndi Lee, David Swenson, Richard Freeman, Doug Keller and Rodney Yee.

What style do you teach?
I teach Vinyasa, Prenatal and Mommy & Baby yoga.  I also teach Stott Pilates.

What’s your favorite food?
Anything spicy!  I LOVE Thai food, coconut, avocados and dried mangos (the ones rolled in chile powder are delicious!).

What’s your nickname?
Mom!!!!!!’

Do you own any animals?
As of now we have 4 siamese cats : Isis, Duncan, Zeus & Buddha, and 1 shepherd mix dog : Helios.

What’s on your playlist right now?
KMFDM, the Pixies, Bob Marley & Fleetwood Mac.  I love 60’s and 70’s music (the Beatles, the Doors, Marvin Gaye).

What’s your favorite yoga accessory?
My turquoise Manduka mat -- it reminds me of the ocean.

What style influences your teaching?
Vinyasa, Ashtanga and Pilates.

Favorite yoga pose?
I am fascinated with handstands right now and having lots of fun practicing them at home.  I enjoy all arm balances -- they remind me that a good sense of humor is a wonderful thing to have while practicing and also they make me feel like I am about 5 yrs. old (when we used to roll down large hills just for fun).

Favorite quote?

‘Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, your right.’ -- Henry Ford

What is your favorite TV show of all time?
House Hunters International.

What did you want to be when you were little?
A ballerina or a marine biologist.

In the animal kingdom, which animal would you be?
Definitely a cat.

Best trip you’ve taken, or dream trip you’d like to take?
I went on a cruise to Mexico and Jamaica with my Grandma when I was in my early twenties.  The entire trip was incredible and I will always hold dear the adventure that we had together.

What drives you every day?
Coffee :-).  Half joking on that  :-).  I guess trying to be the best person I can be whether it is Mom, wife, student, friend or teacher (all parts of ‘me’).  Every morning when I wake up my son, I say ‘It’s a brand new day!’, and we go from there.

Whom do you admire?
People who show kindness to others without requiring personal gain for themselves.

What is your mission?
To try to make a positive difference in people’s lives.

What is the kindest thing anyone has done for you?
My husband turned me into a Wife and Mother.

Fun fact about you?
I could eat wasabi on just about anything and I am afraid of bugs.

What books are you reading right now?
The Ikea 2013 catalogue -- trying to find ideas on how to become a bit more organized at home!  I am also spending quite a bit of time ( A LOT) searching online for new recipes.  My husband and I are eating ‘Caveman style’ (natural foods) and it has been an interesting process.  Fun to try new things and see what makes ‘the cut’.

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The Strength of an Angel

In the fall of 2012, I taught a six-week yoga program to middle school students at St. Mary Magdalene in Westgate focused on yoga and the six attributes of strength: Be Safe, Be Respectful, Be Responsible, Be Confident, Be in Control and Be Forgiving. I’ve been working with the children at St. Mary Magdalene for two years. One of my most dedicated students, Angel, shared a letter with me on the last day of class, detailing what yoga means to her. We at the Yoga on High Foundation felt compelled to share it here with you.

Namaste. —Colleen Leonardi

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Featured Teacher: Mary Ellen Bibyk

Why do you teach?
My goal in teaching is to help people live a more easeful, healthy life.

What style do you teach?
Hatha/Vinyasa -with an eye toward improving strength, balance and flexibility.

What style influences your teaching?
No one style influences my teaching.  Currently, the biggest influences are my personal practice and the people who attend my classes.

Why do you practice?
To remain strong: physically, emotionally, spiritually.

Favorite yoga pose?
I favor the combination of poses and warmups. I find a way to make each pose, each warmup compliment and support the others.

 

Inspirations?
My children, the people who attend my classes, the patients and families I’ve had the privilege to serve.

 

 

What books are you reading right now?
I admire Dan Silva’s writing style. I’ve read several of his books out of order. I’m currently rereading them in order.
I’m also rereading E. Tolle’s, A New Earth and L. Truss’, Eats Shoots & Leaves. My grammar teacher would be appalled by my wanton misuse of punctuation.

What did you want to be when you were little?
A nurse. I read every book I could find on Clara Barton and Florence Nightingale. They were terribly romanticised biographies, but served to inspire me nonetheless.

What’s your favorite food?
My Hungarian grandmother’s recipes. I love to adapt and create new recipes; I’m working on making healthier versions of her delightful dishes.

Your favorite item of clothing?
Given the current season, scarves. I can knit one up on a whim, thanks to my generous yarn stash.

What is you favorite TV show?
Maybe LOST, until the writers got -- lost. The characters were wonderfully fun.
Firefly/Serenity
are entertaining distractions and Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog, which I initially discovered on-line during the writers strike.

Favorite quote?

“I know it’s hard to be reconciled
not everything is exactly the way it ought to be
but please turn around and step into the future
leave memories behind
enter the land of hope”
-- Zhigniew Herbert

What’s on your playlist right now?
One Republic -- really, anything that Ryan Tedder has had a hand in.

Do you own any animals?
One mutt, a rescue. She is intelligent and playful, with a dash of crazy.

We recently lost our beloved cat to cancer. She was a gentle, loving soul and a wonderful snuggle buddy. I miss her very much.

 

 What’s your nickname?
My very best childhood friend called me ‘Ellie Mae’. She and her lovely family lit up my life during some dark times.

What would you call yourself if you could choose your own name?
I would simply use my initials ‘M.E.‘, pronounced ‘Emmy’.
‘Mary Ellen’ is such a cumbersome mouthful.

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How Katherine Framed Questions

By Linda Oshins

The many, many people who knew, loved and were helped through troubled times by Katherine Dufrane have been thinking about her and doing various things to honor her memory since she died a few weeks ago. I place a lighted candle and stick of incense beside a fresh flower, sit down and ask for the lessons she taught me to come to mind, and for me to embody them. This is a way of remembering her. One of the central, critical lessons she taught me was to question openly, letting the answer come to me, rather than trying to figure out the answer, usually by rejecting some aspect of myself or another person.

She was the first to introduce me to the idea of non-doer-ship. Non-doer-ship includes staying clearly within another’s process without co-opting it by introducing your own history into the discussion (for example, “My mother has died, too”); or trying to “fix” the other person’s problem for them (advice giving); or simply shying away from another’s anguished emotional or mental state. It sounds simple, but is really difficult to do. She taught us to be with someone else by asking questions that elicit a metaphorical narrative and experience in them during a Reiki session. Or we could use this same process on ourselves.

Katherine said the essential question is “What is it like?” This is a very open-ended question without any hint of judgment—an invitation to open any door. In our healing group, this was an invitation to locate a sensation in the body and explore it. For example, if I was fearful I would find the sensation of fear in the body and go from there. In exploring a physical sensation, I got to know it and develop a metaphor or narrative that brought it to life. I could look squarely at it and let thoughts, images and memories freely flow until fear was familiar. If I needed a framework to begin my exploration she might ask, “Does it have a shape? A texture? Is it inside you our outside you or both?”

In terms of working with the developing metaphor, she would ask, “When it’s like that… is there anything more about it? When it’s like that…is there anything else for me to know about this?” One of the most comforting things she would say during a session is, “Take all the time you need.” She said this allows time for the shifts in a person’s perception and reality to happen at the cellular level.

Many people have taught me, in different “listening” systems and healing techniques, to repeat a person’s words to them in order for them to hear what they have just said clearly and to let them know that I have heard them clearly too. Katherine called this “blessing the process,” using a person’s own words to create the next question. “When it’s like this (repeating person’s words here)… is there anything else?”

This type of language is the deepest kind of support, a deep respect and reverence for a person as they are in this moment and their own process. It is not a matter of semantics but of the deepest truth.

These are her principles for asking questions of someone else or of yourself—

· Clear all judgments out of a question

· Use open-ended questions that say exactly what you want to know

· No yes-or-no questions or questions where the answer is implied

· Make sure the question respects what is; it can allow for change but does not require it

· The question should bring loving awareness to what is true now

· Allow words to rearrange themselves so that the question feels true to the questioner

· Choose deep issues that seem unknowable

· Include the phrase, “what am I ready to know about…” to permit conscious boundaries; there is a difference between wanting to know and being ready to know or see

· Honor fear; force nothing

· Find the question that has the most juice or energy around it

For years we met to give Reiki to each other and receive it in turn, querying our unconscious, seeming to tap into a pool of wisdom beyond the workings of our limited minds—a place where Katherine was at home. We would take a question vital to one of us or to the group as a whole and spend time with it. We understood that the juice was in the question, not the answer, and that the trip was much more exciting than the destination. Finally, that there was no destination. We would never “understand”. That released us from being right or wrong and left us squarely in the mystery of life and death, just asking questions. What a gift!

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Inhale, Exhale, Pause

By Marcia Miller

Inhale, exhale, pause, inhale, exhale, pause

Can you observe and feel two cycles of your own breath, noticing each of these elements, before reading further? No need to change any of it—just be with your breath however it is.

I’m just back from teaching a retreat in Belize with students from all over the US and Canada, including of course some from our YOHI community. Inhale, exhale, pause turned out to be one of the main themes for our week together and to be a very useful theme to me personally during experiences out of class as well.

In our first class together we met in an outdoor palapa.

All of us had traveled 12 hours or so to get there and starting with a breath practice seemed like a good idea. The next morning we met at 6:30a to experience a mist-enshrouded class. Because we were in the Macal river valley with tall mountains on either side of us, the mist gradually rose so that by the end of the class the tropical sun had risen above the mountain top and we were bathed in light. Inhale, exhale, pause seemed to honor this whole experience. Inhale—take in the gift of the breath right now in this moment; exhale—let go of that which is no longer needed; pause—feel the refreshment, the awe and the integration of this moment.

I love these pauses. A pause is not a “hold.” which implies effort or tension of some kind to keep the breath out when it would prefer to come in. It is an opening into spaciousness that can be the briefest of moments or a luxuriously intimate dip into eternity—the mind quiet, the mouth and nose relaxed as if I just smelled a fragrance at once mysterious and delicious. These pauses, however subtle, give us a chance to stop and see the effects of what just came before, whether it be a yoga pose or a climb up a mountain. These days we seem to move so quickly, even in yoga class, that I relish these simple moments of noticing the effects of my actions, my thoughts, my heart. Inhale, exhale, pause has a rhythm that seems natural and is enhanced by being in a jungle or by the beach as we were last week. All of life is both movement and stillness and it is not always possible to see clearly how each aspect relates to the other. Even as the inhalation is mostly nourishing, it can also be deeply quiet and receptive. The exhalation can be more active and is also a time of deeper absorption for all that was just inhaled. The pause is a time to be with the mystery, the koan, of all of it.

As we continued through our week I remembered this theme many times when I was not in class and experienced many moments of awe and beauty, and a few of fear and confusion.

Early in our trip we visited nearby Mayan ruins. The whole area felt sacred. As I paused on purpose I felt tingling all over my skin and the hairs stood up on my arms. It felt delicious and holy, and I might have missed that feeling if I had not paused. As we climbed the ruins our talented guide of Mayan descent, steeped us in stories of Mayan civilization. These were the stones and stories of his people, and we were captivated by his presence.

And at the same time, my body was terrified of being on narrow ledges up that high. I could hardly breathe and my belly tightened and clenched with fear. “Get out of here now!” it kept saying. But to “get out of here” I had to go down tiny stairs, at times with nothing to hold onto—not a great resolution to this fearful experience. I remained on the ledge, as far away from the edge as possible and stayed with myself. Inhale, exhale, pause. I felt the sensations of fear in my body and continued to breathe my mantra of the week. I’d love to say that the breathing practice completely calmed my fear and that I was able to dance my way down the stairs. Not so. But the gift of the breath offered me a way of being with myself as I was fearful and that felt huge. When I noticed judgments arise, wondering what was wrong with me, asking how I can call myself a yoga teacher if I have this much fear, I would return to my breath with gentleness and compassion. I don’t know why I am afraid of heights but I am, and yet I was able to see the site and sort of enjoy myself. By staying with my fear that day, I have the sense that I might be a bit less afraid another time. Somehow, I trust myself more. And I was able to laugh at myself as I sat on my butt and went down the stairs that way!

As we went through the week, there were so many moments of awe, of learning about the natural world we were a part of and a few other moments of discomfort but inhale, exhale, pause was with me. I paused to see a red-rumped tarantula that was coaxed out of its hole by our fearless guide. I stood atop a mountain, again with a quivering belly, to see the entire river valley laid out before me.

 

I saw a rare basilisk lizard that rested so peacefully on our guide’s arm that we all got to take pictures. I saw thousands of stars and the sweep of the Milky Way that are not visible where I live. I saw and heard Howler Monkeys with their call that sounds like ujjayi breath gone evil. I saw a pelican land on the ocean less than 10 feet from me and frigates floated overhead as we practiced yoga. While snorkeling, among dozens of miraculous sights, I saw a Spotted Eagle Ray that looked like it was slowly flying under water and a tiny juvenile damsel fish that looked like sparkling stars in a deep blue night. Because of our practice of inhale, exhale, pause in class and in my own personal practice over the years, I could remember to take the time to be with all the beauty that I saw.

Inhale, exhale, pause.

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