stop your wiggling.

Lately I’ve been enamored with the dichotomy between stillness and movement.  You may remember this post where I talked about travelling horizontally vs. travelling vertically. To borrow from Pico Iyer,  travelling vertically means traveling into Stillness within. I’ve discovered that I’m fairly skilled at resisting extracurricular fidgeting in two areas of stillness: savasana and seated meditation.

But I’m nearly terrible at finding stillness inside a yoga pose. 

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This is one of my favorite poses, but I’m constantly wiggling once I’m in it. (photo cred: epagaFoto and Allyson Cheney)

It’s part career hazard: as a yoga teacher, my eagle eye is scanning the room, looking for any opportunity to help a student move more efficiently and enjoyably in and out of each pose.

And it’s part habit: I always want to find a way to make my pose look and feel ideal.

But what if ‘ideal’ for today is exactly where the pose landed in its first mental conception and physical manifestation? What if the pose doesn’t require a shifting of the hips, an extra elongating of the spine, an extra stretch of the ribs, or an extra visual scan around the room to see who’s doing the pose better than I am? It usually doesn’t.

One thing I adore about the Ashtanga asana system is that I only get 5 inhales in each pose. I sure as heck better get myself into my pose in one movement. Forget about wiping sweat, drinking water, fixing bobby pins, adjusting bra straps: there is simply no time for these shenanigans. There is only time for stillness.

Again, to quote the very wise Pico Iyer, “Stillness is not an indulgence… it’s a necessity for anyone who wants to gather less visible resources.”

Meaning: we don’t need 3 hours in meditation to find stillness. We don’t need to indulge in a three week sabbatical to make stillness a part of our lives. (Although, how cool is it to get into the mountains, set up your yoga mat on a pine needle carpet and start your day with birdsong? It’s really cool!)

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Travel, if you have the chance.  But also be brave enough to be still.

I’m working on finding stillness in each pose—getting into the pose and staying as still as possible. Physically, this could conceivably be a long time but mentally, this is SO difficult for me! I want to wiggle my way to perfection– shifting ever so slightly with each breath, nailing that pose and moving on to the next.

But when I do this ‘quick and conquer’ thing– what mental resources am I gathering?

Perhaps not the ones I need.

What do I need?

I need patience.

I need patience, patience, patience, and the tenacity to be imperfect. I need to gather up all my courage to get myself into an emotionally uncomfortable place and stick it out. This freedom to find stillness, to gather up the less visible inner resources feels like the ultimate prize.

My challenge for you today is to change your view of stillness from an indulgence to a necessity. 

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My challenge for you today is to change your view of stillness from an indulgence to a necessity. (photo cred: epagaFoto and Allyson Cheney)

When you are practicing yoga (or not… maybe you are just trying to make it through the day without losing your mind at work and your temper at your kiddos) can you be brave enough to stop fidgeting and fixing? Can you be brave enough to be still and gather up resources that will ultimately fill you up? These are the resources of patience, gratitude, resilience, and ease. The resources that allow you to look around the room with your eagle eye and assess your life as being blessed, even if you are momentarily uncomfortable.

If you aren’t great at doing this, perhaps try listening to one of my Guided Meditations. Give yourself time and grace; expect a natural learning curve.

In the meantime, let me know which inner resources you’ve gathered while in a moment of stillness, and how your outlook on life is beginning to shift.

Looking forward to hearing from you,

-lisa

Author’s Note: this article first appeared on MayaYoga.com in September 2016. Lisa Ash Yoga retains the rights to this article 

experience a sense of ease. #MeditationThoughtMondays

sense of ease (schiffman)

“As you immerse yourself in stillness… you will experience an unexpected and immensely satisfying sense of contentment and ease.”  e. schiffmann, “Yoga: The Spirit and Practice of Moving into Stillness”

I’m not a very ‘still’ person.  Many days, I look back over the events of the day and remember that the only time when I sat ‘still’ was when I was eating lunch (on my couch, cuddled up next to my Russell Clive)… and this doesn’t even count because this time was spent stuffing my face with vegetables like the #NutritionNerd that I am.  (Did you make my favorite roasted veggie salad yet?).  I sit in the car a lot– that comes with the territory of teaching yoga at several studios and having a home office– but even in the car I’m constantly in motion. Needless to say, Sitting Still is profoundly healing, but often profoundly elusive.

Sitting still doesn’t happen in our lives because

a) we are busy.

b) we are tired. (we fall asleep every time we try)

c) it’s hard.

The stillness-phobic among us are terrified to even try meditation because ‘it’s hard to be still and I’m not good at it.’  (Join the club.)

Well, it is hard.  But because sitting still, being still, and stilling the Mind are difficult feats to achieve, many meditation techniques have been developed to teach us how.  One technique I’d like to share with you is profoundly helpful for me.  (If you are brand new to Meditation, you’ll also want to read these posts:  5 benefits of Meditation  and learn to meditate. your way.)

It’s called “Counting Backward.”  In this meditation technique, breathing is the primary focus.  We always begin with the connection to the breath, because it is our connection to the Present Moment and to the Spirit within.  The technique will help you move into stillness.  Erich Shiffmann, leading yoga teacher and author, writes: “Sitting absolutely still –practicing brief physical immobility– can teach you how to be in the conflict-free, higher-energy, ‘stillness’ state for more of your daily life.”

Steps to “Counting Backward” Meditation:

1.  Sit very comfortably with your back straight.  If you can’t sit on the floor with your back straight, then sit against a wall or on a chair.

2.  Close your eyes.

3. Breath normally, gently, fully.  Experience the room you are in and experience your body for a moment.

4.  Begin to count your breathing, mentally, silently.  Begin with 50 on an exhale.  49 on an inhale.  48 on an exhale.  47 on an inhale.

5.  Avoid elongating or changing your breath.  You are learning to NOT be in control.  Let the breath be very gentle, full, and soft.

6.  When you lose your count, come back to 50.  Continue counting every breath silently backward until the count of 1.

7.  When you reach zero, stop counting, but stay aware of the natural intake of breath.  Sit for a few more moments and enjoy the ease.

8.  Immerse yourself in the stillness.  End the exercise any time you feel ready.  Extend your deepest gratitude for this moment and for all of the many blessings which bring you joy in this life.

“As you immerse yourself in stillness… you will experience an unexpected and immensely satisfying sense of contentment and ease.”  e. schiffmann, “Yoga: The Spirit and Practice of Moving into Stillness”

One day, you won’t need the tool of counting backwards… maybe you can just slip into stillness.  I first tried this technique two years ago and it is still one of my favorite ways to begin a meditation moment; I use it often.  If I only have a few moments, then I begin counting backward from 10.  Give it a good try; if you find it helpful, then keep trying it.  If you find it unhelpful or distracting, try something else.  Remember, you are your own best teacher!

If you would like to practice this technique with me, you may take a Meditation Class with me Sundays at 11:00 am at Maya Yoga KC and you may sign up for my 3 Week Workshop: Introduction to Meditation at Westport Yoga KC Sundays April 12, April 19, and April 26, 2015.  See my teaching schedule and events page for full details.

ASH intro to Meditation April 2015

Happy Stillness,  Much love,

-lisa

learn to meditate. your way.

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Most often, students who are new to yoga and meditation are told to simply, “sit there and still your thoughts.”

When I first learned to meditate, my thoughts could only stay still for about 0.03 seconds. I’m a list-maker, a future-organizer, a ruminator, a worrier and a dreamer. Even if my body was still, my mind was anything but.

In my experience, my thoughts don’t completely cease, but they do slow down a little bit after a few moments of meditation. I visualize my neural pathways as cars speeding across interstate overpasses and then very gradually slowing down … consciously choosing a safer, more sustainable, less hurried pace. Still going somewhere, but taking a slower pace with time to enjoy the scenery.

I’ve learned that meditating is an integral part of a holistic yoga practice. The asanas (postures) are performed in order prepare the body for seated meditation. But here’s thing: you don’t just sit there.

Seated meditation is an active process of learning to become attuned to your thoughts with skillful attention. It is the skill of consciously slowing down your thought processes so that you can live a sustainable life and take time to enjoy the scenery along the way.

Learning to meditate doesn’t have to be daunting.

Start Here:


Focus on Your Breath.

Focusing on your breath reaffirms your mind-body connection. Typically, your mind and your body are in two different locations: your body is one place and your mind is elsewhere, trapped in rumination of the past or worries about the future. Your breath is the bridge between a focused, present, mind-body connection.

This 3-part breathing meditation works wonders for stress relief.

Complete Breath Exercise


Enjoy a Relaxing Visualization Practice.

Visualization works wonders. One of my favorite techniques is a Systematic Relaxation Exercise from Dr. Rolf Sovik of the Himalayan Institute called “61 Points of Light.” Most Guided Meditation experiences share the primary aim of total relaxation, so go ahead and lay down in a comfortable place, snuggle in and enjoy 10 stress-free minutes.

61 Points of Light


Listen to a Guided Meditation.

Don’t feel like you can make your thoughts “be still-er” on your own volition? Utilize a guided meditation audio file that you can take with you, wherever you are. Listen and remember that you are here, and this is now.

“I am here, this is now” Meditation

Head to this page on my website for more resources: Guided Meditation


Just Do it.

Don’t worry about doing it correctly or incorrectly.  Start by sitting still for 60 seconds. Appreciate your breath for one minute. Remember that meditation is YOUR practice.

You will find a way to meditate that works well for you and you will find a way that doesn’t work well for you.  If you are learning to sit in stillness, you are learning to trust your own wisdom. Listen to your own insight, and commit to a daily stillness practice.  It will change your life.

“Trust Your Inner Knowing” Meditation


Guided Meditation Teachings

Love these Resources? Consider partnering with Lisa to continue providing valuable teachings that promote hope, health and happiness here:

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