I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Connecting with my breath

Fresh strawberries at the Farmers' Market
Yesterday I made a quick stop at the Farmers' Market to have a treat from Sophie's (Raven Bread) and then head home to get ready for my two-and-a-half-hour seminar at the yoga studio. It was advertised to be about Pranayama and yoga philosophy, taught by Felicity Green, an Advanced Level Teacher who also happens to be 83 years old. I couldn't resist spending an afternoon with her, along with almost forty others in a fairly small room. You could either sit in a chair or sit cross-legged on bolsters and blankets. I chose the chair, which meant I was much more comfortable than I otherwise would have been, but at the back of the room.

Felicity is a tall regal woman with a slight accent that I associate with New Zealanders, but I never did find out where she is originally from. She taught yoga in Washington for years and retired about ten years ago. She moved to Lopez Island and is now coming out of retirement in order to write a book on yoga. It was interesting to see someone my age put herself in a cross-legged position where she actually looked comfortable, with both knees flat on the floor. I think she was the only person in the room with such flexibility. The seminar was open to every level, and we did no asanas (yoga postures) but instead concentrated on the breath.

Felicity described the Eight Limbs of the Patanjali yoga sutras: Yamas (relation to the world), Niyamas (relation to ourselves), Asanas (bodily postures), Pranayama (breath control), Pratyahara (controlled use of the senses), Dharana (focus on a broad subject), Dhyana (complete focus), and Samadhi (loss of ego self).

Patanjali was an Indian sage who lived around 400 AD. He was the main inspiration for BKS Iyengar, who founded the yoga that I am studying today. From Wikipedia:
The Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali was the most translated ancient Indian text in the medieval era, having been translated into about forty Indian languages and two non-Indian languages: Old Javanese and Arabic. The text fell into obscurity for nearly 700 years from the 12th to 19th century, and made a comeback in late 19th century due to the efforts of Swami Vivekananda. It gained prominence again as a comeback classic in the 20th century.
How did I ever get by without Wikipedia? I find myself using that resource on a daily basis, and almost every time I sit down to write this post, I go there for one thing or another. Anyway: back to yesterday and how Felicity taught us about Pranayama.

After some discussion, we closed our eyes and made ourselves comfortable with our spines as straight as we could manage. Years ago I could sit for long periods cross-legged, but no more. At home I have a kneeling stool, which I sure could have used yesterday. We were then instructed to count our inhalations, from one to nine and then start over again. If we lost focus, we were to just start over again at one. I found it fairly easy to do and didn't lose track during the three minutes we did this exercise. Felicity timed us and ended the session by tapping a brass gong.

Then we did the same thing again, counting our exhalations. Now this was interesting to me, since it seemed completely different from counting my inhalations. I kept going off into another place, feeling sleepy but I still didn't lose count. Again we did this for three minutes. Afterwards, we discussed the differences and how we did. I was surprised to learn that if you feel relaxed while counting the exhalations, your mind is more quiet. If you are more comfortable counting the inhalations, you have a busier mind.

We then did the same exercise again for a longer period of time. It's incredibly relaxing to just count your breath. I was once long ago a regular meditator, and I realize that the discipline I learned then is still alive somewhere in my brain. Every once in awhile while I felt as though I had traveled back in time and was sitting in a room with old friends, almost as if all those decades and years had simply evaporated. It was somehow very comforting and lovely to sit silently with these new friends, with Felicity as our guide.

We then did one more exercise, where we simply watched our breath, imagining a light going from the base of the spine right up to the top of the head on the inhalation, and then going back down again on the exhalation. Interestingly, this one went on for ten minutes, but it felt like just a minute or two, I think because by this time I was so calm and relaxed after these exercises.

And then it was over, and I came home to relate my experiences to SG, and to think about what I had learned about breath and Pranayama. Felicity left us with something to ponder: you can live for three weeks without food, three days without water, and three minutes without breath.

I have much to learn, but it's a good beginning into this next phase of my life, one where I will become less focused on external activity and more on developing my inner life. This blog is a good vehicle to allow me to see myself traveling along from one phase to another. And my yoga practice will only continue to grow. It's hard to imagine that it was only a few months ago that I took my first class at Yoga Northwest, and now I look forward so much to each hour I spend there, or in my own developing practice.

I'm sure other events have happened in my life since last Sunday, but at this moment I can't think of any of real significance, other than yesterday's seminar and Thursday's annual picnic to begin the summer season with the Trailblazers. It rained most of the time we were hiking, but it didn't dampen our spirits at all. And the following potluck was simply delightful.

I realize I am incredibly blessed with the life I have these days. Every day I give thanks for having discovered Bellingham for my retirement years and wish that everybody could have as supportive an environment as the one in which I've found myself. It's true that it's not just by chance, but when you make a big decision to move somewhere you've never been, leaving your career and friends behind, you really don't know what's ahead. Well, here I am: ahead, and it's really good at this moment in time.

So with that, I've managed to get my laundry done while writing this post, tea is long gone, and I've got a latte with my name on it at the coffee shop. (Partner is still gently snoring.) So with these words, I'll wish you not only all good things but a wonderful week ahead.
"Mindfulness helps you go home to the present. And every time you go there and recognize a condition of happiness that you have, happiness comes." ~ Thich Nhat Hanh 


Marie Smith said...

Love the last quote. So true!

Your new home has worked out so well, the right place for this point in your life. You are fortunate to have found such a great place.

Far Side of Fifty said...

I would fall asleep! I am glad you enjoyed the class:)

Linda Myers said...

Yoga sounds like it may have replaced skydiving as your go-to joy.

The Furry Gnome said...

Very thoughtful and interesting. It's enough to get me interested in yoga.

Meryl Baer said...

It is so wonderful you found the perfect place to enjoy your retirement. I also discovered the joy of yoga and it is wonderful for body and mind.

Elephant's Child said...

I found counting my breath in either direction relaxing. Which surprised me. Firstly because I am barely numerate, and secondly because I have a cold. But relaxing it was.
Thank you. It is obvious that I do need to explore yoga further instead of just thinking about it.

Rhapsody said...

Finding ones center is everything. I am yoga works.
love the fruits.

Optimistic Existentialist said...

I have someone who has been trying to persuade me to try yoga...I think I may have to cave eventually :) and those strawberries look YUMMY!!

Red said...

I've never found anybody who tried yoga who didn't like it. It's good to see your description of your experience with yoga. Last night I couldn't make a comment on your post so your blog got read twice as I couldn't remember what I was going to write!!!

John's Island said...

Hi DJan, Great post! I am fascinated with things like this Yoga experience. The older I get, the more I realize how much our American culture has missed out on. Possibly because we always think we know best? ... when we really don't? Recently, I've also read more about "mindfulness" and how it can positively affect one. As usual, Eye on the Edge gets me into a thoughtful mood. Thank you and have a great week ahead!

Rita said...

Sounds like an amazing, spiritually refreshing class!
I did regular meditation for a while many years ago and I think it helps keep one centered in general, even when I haven't been doing an actual meditation practice for a long time. If things get stressful I find I automatically can kind of go inward and calm myself with a few deep breaths, you know? Anywhere--even in traffic or whatever. I can relate when I read about mindfulness. My being in pain all these years has been a real blessing for learning how to stay positive and calm. If I don't--my pain level spikes. Nothing like a little mindfulness motivation, eh? LOL!
How lucky you were to experience that class! Enjoy your week!! :)

Arkansas Patti said...

I really miss Yoga but what I have retained for years was the breathing. I use it when I can't get back to sleep and it is very helpful. I will have to try that light elevator on the spine though if I need it tonight. I tried it just now and liked it.

Cynthia said...

Since moving to South Carolina (from Minnesota) I've lost my "yoga tribe" and miss it very much. I do practice most days on my own which is good, but not the same as feeling the energy of a whole room filled with people doing yoga together. It seems you have chosen well in the place you found to spend your retirement. Namaste DJan.

Barb said...

To love the place you're in is a blessing. I focus on breath just before falling asleep. It puts me in a restful, relaxed state and keeps my mind from skittering around.

jo(e) said...

Whenever I'm at a gathering of women, I can usually tell the ones who do yoga on a regular basis: no matter how old they are, they are comfortable sitting cross-legged on the floor.