Sunflower Mandala

Archive for the ‘Mindfulness’ Category

Rainy Days and Glorious Grays

 

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Rainy days can be dreary and make us feel weary, but I often find solace in the muted gray calm and the rhythmic sound of raindrops tap dancing on windows. A lazy rolling rumble of thunder in the distance only adds another tune to nature’s soundtrack of serenity.

For the earth and its habitants, regular rainfall offers a bounty of benefits. The water nurtures plants, trees, and crops; nourishes the soil; and combats drought. In addition, the rain gives us the gift of rainbows, and even cleans our cars for free!

Rainy day yoga . . . go with the flow

Rainy days offer a backdrop of soothing sound that lets us tune in to the tasks at hand. With our focus fixed, the workday slips by seamlessly. Creativity flows. Rainy days are perfect days to write in a journal, read a book, clean out a closet, sip some soup. Walking in the rain–with or without the one you love–can feel peaceful or exhilarating, depending on your mood. No wonder rain shower strolls have been immortalized in music and art. rain days

I love to hear the rhythmic voice of rainfall when I am on my yoga mat. As the water flows, so does the body, moving fluidly from posture to posture, as natural as the rain. I might begin with Bridge pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana), some simple stretches, and a reclining twist on my mat, followed by Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskar) with heart-opening Crescent Lunges (Anjaneyasana). A series of strengthening standing postures such as Tree (Vrksasana), Warrior I and II (Virabhadrasana), Triangle (Trikonasana, shown at right), and Half Moon Pose (Ardha Chandrasana) might follow, all the better if the rain is flowing fiercely.

After more mat work, my rainy day yoga routine would end with deep relaxation (Savasana) in a reclining restorative pose, soothed into stillness by the sweet murmur of raindrops whispering at my window.

Soothing shades of gray

On Tuesday evenings I teach a yoga class near my home in Yonkers, and the students and I joke that if it’s dreamstime_xs_45416275raining, it must be Tuesday, because rain showers and gray skies seem to favor our practice time. I recently reminded my students that there are many delightful shades of gray that are not the least bit dreary. The vast Benjamin Moore gray color palette includes some yummy-sounding ones: Full Moon, Mineral Ice, Deep Space. To these I would add my own “custom” favorites: Fluffy Bunny Gray and Wolf Pup Gray.

One of the friendliest visitors to our backyard, the Gray Catbird (shown at left), offers a soothing spectrum of gray shades, from powder to slate, in its feathers. And our cat IMG_1309Selene, the sweetest cat I have ever known, is fur-coated in her own personalized shade, Loving Kitty Gray. We named Selene after the Greek goddess of the moon (hence all those e’s) when we adopted her because our son Harrison (then eleven years old) said that the irregular pattern of her silky gray and white fur reminded him of the dimpled silvery surface of the moon. (Her full name is Selene Moonbeam.) Selene is shown at right in one of her favorite yoga poses, Donut-Shaped Kitty Savasana. She is an expert at it!

What say you: yeah or nay for rain? When it’s raining, do you prefer to play indoors or outside? Do you have a favorite rainy day yoga pose or pranayama? And what are your favorite shades of gray?

 

Photo credits: Rain Pouring Off Roof ©Peshkova|Dreamstime.com; Louise in Triangle ©YogaBright; Gray Catbird ©Brian Kushner|Dreamstime.com; Selene in Savasana ©YogaBright.

Tuesday, May 30th, 2017

Breathe, Then Breathe Again

Never underestimate the healing power of your breath

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In a late July issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association, Dr. Elizabeth Levin shared a transformative journey, both personal and professional, that speaks directly to the heart of the yogi.

In her fourth year of medical school, in a subinternship at Cook County Hospital in Chicago, Dr. Levin worked with a 36-year-old woman, a mom, with metastatic breast cancer. On the final day of her rotation, Dr. Levin visited the patient for the last time. During their conversation, the patient talked about her plans for her young son’s care after her death. As the women spoke, Dr. Levin began to cry. “I could not stop myself,” she wrote in her JAMA article, “Learning to Breath.”

Dr. Levin continued, “As I continued to cry, she cried as well. I knew she was upset with herself, and me, because she felt crying was a sign of weakness. Despite my best efforts, I cried and, in the process, upset my patient even more.”

As part of her medical training, Dr. Levin was taking a course in mindfulness-based stress heart in handsreduction (MBSR). On the same day as that painful goodbye, the MBSR class focused on coping with stress encountered during clinical practice. During a meditation segment, the instructor asked the medical students to talk about a difficult time they’d had with a patient. While her classmates shared their experiences, Dr. Levin struggled to relax and breathe. She was losing her focus, her presence in the moment, and she dreaded sharing her experience with her colleagues.

She writes, “ . . . the time came for my turn and I began my story of the day. Crying, I felt the pit in my stomach. I became aware of my breath, the short inspirations and the tightness in my throat. But I felt relief as I told my story to the group.”

Over the following weeks, the doctors-in-training observed and documented how challenging patient interactions affected their own bodies and breath. Dr. Levin noticed that she often held her breath when confronted with sadness or suffering. With practice, she learned to stay present and not be swept away by the rising tide of emotion during stressful encounters. 

A year later, working as a resident in internal medicine, Dr. Levin used the tools of mindfulness, particularly deep breathing, to help support another critically ill patient and her family. She remained compassionate, but in control. She wrote that this pivotal experience, and others that followed, would not have been possible had she not learned how to breathe.

I came across Dr. Levin’s piece while looking for articles about yoga research, and was touched by her experiences and her honesty. Her article reminds us that yoga is not only practiced on the mat, or in a pose. This young doctor is practicing yoga when she uses her breath to steady herself in difficult situations; she’s using yoga when she shows her patients compassion.

Never underestimate the healing power of your breath. As I regularly tell students, observe your breath. Observe it when you rest and as you move. Let your breath calm you, cool you, warm you, serve you. Breathe, then breathe again, before you scream harsh words at a loved one, when someone cuts you off on the road, when you’re pissed at your boss, when you feel like you’re losing your mind. And cherish your breath, because it keeps you strong and alive.

To learn simple yogic breathing techniques, click on the Pranayama tab.  

Lotus Mind illustration: © Antaratma Images | Dreamstime.com; Your heart in my hands photo: © Mitar Gavric | Dreamstime.com 

Saturday, August 8th, 2015
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