Meditation in Motion: How to Stay Present in the Body

By Jill Satterfield

Meditation in Motion is a way of practicing being present by being in our body, wherever it is and whatever it is doing.When we are exactly where our body is, we are in the present moment. The body isn’t in the past or future, it’s not conceptual or imagined; it’s part of nature and contains all of nature’s elements. It houses our awareness, is shaped by our stories, thoughts, and emotions, and holds our memories within its tissues. The body is our house—and how we live in it and where we occupy it are uniquely ours, as well as being part of the common human experience.

The body is a treasure trove and an exquisite vehicle for our practice of waking up and being with what is. The body senses thoughts and emotions, and it displays this psychic knowing in sensations before our mind actually cognizes them. So being in tune with our bodies is a way to be intimately involved in having choice.

Noticing a small vibration, a contraction, or a tightening of the breath all can signal that something is about to be announced, and if not heeded it might be announced in a rather big way. (Think of the rumblings of the ground before the eruption of a volcano.) As we inhabit our body with increasing sensitivity, we learn its unspoken language and patterns, which gives us tremendous freedom to make choices.

The practice of cutting thoughts and dispersing negative repetitive patterns can be simplified by attending to the patterns in the body first, before they begin to be spun around in the mind. Practice is the ground of training that influences all we do at other times. As an outgrowth of the concentrative awareness developed by our meditation practice, there is a natural seeping of wakefulness into our daily life. We begin to notice what we’re doing while we are seated, walking, lying down, or assuming some sort of posture.

But our mind training doesn’t have to stop when we are not in a seated meditation posture, because most of the time we are in some sort of posture without actually naming it as such. For instance, sitting at the desk and craning our neck forward toward the computer is a posture, albeit not one of very good alignment. If we’re standing in front of a crowd and giving a talk, we are in a posture, depending on how confident we feel, and if we simply walk through a crowd of people we don’t know, our body mirrors our self-consciousness by assuming some sort of posture called the way we carry ourselves. A posture is a posture whether we give it a name, practice it in a class, or abide in it unconsciously.

So how are we occupying the posture we are in? By simply locating our breath at any given moment, we begin to develop an intimate relationship with our body, its posture or shape, and the way it is reflecting our thoughts and emotions.

In the Buddha’s discourse on the four foundations of mindfulness (Satipatthana Sutta), he asks the monks to notice the breath, whether it be short or long, and he says: “He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in sensitive to the entire (breath) body.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out sensitive to the entire (breath) body.’” We can notice what our breath is doing and, just as importantly, how it is reacting to what is going on both internally and externally, especially if we are sensitive to the entire body.

In many traditions consciousness and breath are considered to be two wings of a bird—I like to think of breath and consciousness as travel partners. For instance, when we are asked to breathe into an area of the body, what are we actually doing? Certainly we aren’t literally breathing into our hands, for example, but we are beckoning our consciousness into our hands, or wherever we might choose to bring it. Consciousness, breath, chi, prana, energy—these are all words pointing toward the same thing. What’s important is primarily the experience of it, then the naming of it in order to communicate about it with others. What we notice when we metaphorically breathe into an area of our body is that we feel something. That something may be difficult to describe, as many esoteric things are, but it is an undeniable experience.

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Mindfulness of breath can also organically lead us to be mindful of when we are not breathing. We may also recognize the conditions of the body around the area where we sense a contraction or holding of breath, bringing our mind and heart together to be with sensations—pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral. When awareness becomes quite keen, we notice our patterns of moving breath away from discomfort in the body.

This refined awareness can eventually translate into knowing our patterns of holding, tightening, and controlling breath when we are in emotional discomfort. It’s easier to be aware of breath related to physical discomfort than it is to be aware of breath associated with emotional discomfort, so we can train the mind to stay with what is in the body first, and then take it up a notch to be aware of breath and body when experiencing emotional difficulties. This is not a conceptual practice; it is experiential, personal, and intimate.

Eventually we might choose to follow breath into many areas of the body as a continuation of training, to see how the mind and breath are intimately connected, and how they actively mirror each other both playfully and protectively. As we “see” how the breath and mind are connected, we begin to have the ability to move our awareness around our body, locating areas of emotional blocks and areas of unconsciousness.

After intentionally traversing our inner landscape with breath and mind, we can prescribe a practice that might hold the most treasure for us at any
given moment. By witnessing how we are, in our body, heart, and mind, we become armed with the necessary information needed to respond thoughtfully and with care.

There are as many types of practice as there are mind, body, and heart states: whether we are seated, walking, or in a purposeful posture, we have the means to address ourselves with real kindness. This intention to pay attention leads us to skillful action—in our own inner and more private world and in the shared world at large. Ultimately, taking care—by taking time to be with what is—will provide a key to being more spacious and at ease, able to be present with whatever our lives hold for us for as long as we have life, in this body, right now


This article originally appeared in as “Meditation in Motion: How to Stay Present in the Body” in Tricycle Magazine, 2012

jill__0201-240x300Jill Satterfield is the founder of Vajra Yoga + Meditation, a synthesis of yoga and Buddhism that combines meditation, yoga and contemplative practices. Named “one of the 4 leading yoga and Buddhist teachers in the country” by Shambhala Sun Magazine, the VY+M trainings were the first to integrate Buddhism and meditation directly into asana practice in New York City in 2002.   Jill has instigated mindful and creative educational programs for over 28 years.

She is also the founder and Director of the School for Compassionate Action: Meditation, Yoga and Educational Support for Communities in Need. SCA is a not for profit that trains teachers, psychologists and health care providers to integrate mind and body practices into their professions. SCA also provides classes to people in chronic pain, with illness, those suffering from PTSD, and at- risk youth. SCA is now taught and practiced across the country and in Europe.

 

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3 Simple Ways to Gain A Mind Body Connection

 

By Jenn Mason

I am guilty of going about my day without thinking about how my actions impact my body and mind. There are days that go by without any self-care practices. When I finally take the time to just sit and breathe, practice yoga or get an acupuncture session I notice the difference instantly. My body is more at ease, my mind and spirit are calm, the back pain I experience is gone and my headaches subside. What is most surprising is what difference it makes in my interactions with my husband, co-workers and strangers I encounter on the road.

Though I have been practicing yoga for years now, I did not make the mind body connection until I practiced self-care for one week straight. As part of a movement awareness class I practiced qi gong, yoga and soft-belly breathing for seven consecutive days. I went online and found a couple of free 20 minute videos and began my practice. Within the day I noticed a significant change not only in my body, but my mind was clear, my mood was lighter and my spirit felt at peace because I wasnt so worried or caught up in the daily grind.

I am a “worry-wart” by nature and I tend to rush because if I am not running late I have a long to-do list. I am also a control freak and want to make the most of my day by cramming in as much as I can. Which, come to think about it is a little counter-intuitive for someone wanting to live with less stress.

Needless to say that despite my controlling characteristics I am learning to live more in the “calm and at ease” space that I discovered during my week of self-care.

Instead of living in the constant “fight or flight” state and doing damage to our adrenal glands why not take three long breaths?

Our bodies are capable of creating and living in a state of relaxation, why not take advantage of these free tools?

Below are some easy steps you can take on a daily basis to kick start your journey to less stress.

1. Before opening an email take three deep breaths from your belly (you should feel your belly expand with every inhale).

2. During your lunch break go outside (weather permitting), sit comfortably with your back against a wall or bench and your feet on the ground. Let your arms relax and close your eyes gently. Begin to breathe, in through your nose and out through your mouth. Take 5 minutes and increase as needed.

3. Go for a walk! Walking meditations are easy and free. Instead of bringing your phone and checking it as you walk, plug in some of your favorite music OR go without media and bring your awareness to the sights, smells, what you hear. Feel the wind against your hair and the sun on your skin. How does this feel? Bring your awareness to your surroundings while walking in silence

If you need a guided soft belly meditation I would recommend Dr. James Gordon’s soft belly meditation.


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This article originally appeared on Jenn’s personal blog, Heart Filled Life. For more inspirational posts follow her blog for regular tips on staying happy and healthy.

Jenn’s background is in non-profit management, health care and sociology. She is a birth doula and leads stress reduction and mindful living workshops. She holds a master’s in women’s health and is currently getting a PhD in Mind-Body Medicine with a certification in health and wellness coaching and hypnosis.

 

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Tantra as a Personal Transformation

By Kate Aughenbaugh

Before I began my Tantra Shakti teacher training with Rod Stryker, I was working with the Wild Unknown tarot regularly and I consistently pulled the Tower, which represents unexpected and uncontrollable upheaval. It is illustrated on the card as a lighting bolt splintering a tree. I had a turbulent and uneasy relationship with this card until a few days ago when I changed my perspective with the help of tantric practice. Today, wondering how best to explain the practice and what Tantra is to me, I pulled a card that I had never pulled before, Strength; a refreshing change from my well-worn Tower. Strength, as you can see from the title page of this document, is depicted with a lion, rose in mouth, infinity symbol in its third eye and rays of light beaming down overhead. It was perfect because it represents the ability to unleash Shakti (strength) to overcome limitations.

I pulled my old pal the Tower during the Tantra Shakti training and for the first time I didn’t want to fling the card across the room or burn it so that I couldn’t pull it from the deck again. I smiled. I recognized that all of the structures that I had built and dismantled along with the fears and paradoxes that I had come in sharp contact with, had a beauty of their own and had pushed me in the direction that would allow me to recognize my Shakti strength to weather the storm. I began to intuitively make tantric choices that were safe, sustainable, and elevating to accept and expand beyond my tower and transform my life.

Tantra translates to ‘stretch beyond limits’ and also to ‘weaving’. It acknowledges that we have conditions and limitations and it provides a way of allowing Shakti, that resides within us, to expand beyond these limitations. Tantra weaves the technology of many time-tested practices. However, it doesn’t stop there. It’s a living tradition and if something is safe, sustainable, and elevates you, it can be considered tantric.

Much like the infinity symbol depicted in the lion’s third eye, Tantra embraces both dual and non-dual reality. There are clearly two separate circles, part of one symbol; there is no separation between the divine and material. I have also applied this view to the imagery of light and dark; the two can’t exist without the other and are one in the same. Rod said several times during the training that when he meets with his teachers they are rarely interested in his meditation practice or transcendent experiences. Instead, they want to know about his life because life is the place where one has the opportunity to experience divinity.

Tantra methodology and philosophy is how I am able to expand my courage to begin to investigate, honor, and accept my fears and the mind boggling puzzles that they present so that I can soothe and balance them in order to not be controlled by them. Much of our focus during the training was using technique to awaken and expand light energy. As I reflected on practice throughout the course, my self-confidence, alertness, and perception of the dualistic world were transforming as my inner practice was brightening. My perception towards the Tower was changing. You know Tantra is thriving when you find more joy, fearlessness in your life, and that the amount of time between creating an intention and the intention manifesting is shortening. The Tower will always be a part of my deck, along with all of the other archetypes and scenarios available in this divine life.

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Come on Patanjali, did you really mean that about the body?

by Gretchen Mehlhoff

Alright, It’s true that the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali contain a deep and vast understanding of existence, consciousness and truth; however, it is still a system of thought put down into words and concretized into form by a human hand (or human hands, we are not sure if Patanjali was one man or many). “it is not known exactly when Sri Patanjali lived, or even if he was a single person rather than several persons using the same title. Estimates of the date of the Sutras range from 5000 B.C. to 300 A.D.” (The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Swami Satchidananda, Kindle Edition Location 120).

So, next question: Divine omniscience or a whole lot of really deep wisdom and understanding? Maybe they are the same thing. In his foreword to Light on the Yoga Sutras, Godfrey Devereaux’s first line refers to the Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras as the “bible” of yoga. In the following introduction, Iyengar says of Patanjali:  “if God is considered the seed of all knowledge (sarvajna bijan), Patanjali is all knower, all wise (sarvajnan), of all knowledge.”

It’s possible to both embrace and question every system of thought, every philosophy and every “word of god” with the heart of both a seeker and a scientist. It seems more difficult to question ideas held to be “divine omniscience.” However, there seems more natural room for thoughtful inquiry and questioning if those ideas are accepted as deep insights of wisdom pointing to the absolute truth but still containing the residue of cultural and historical contexts. In this way, the word becomes living, the word finds a place to take root in the fertile ground of our actual lives, it gains a soulful context.

Now, on to one example of a “questionable” sutra. Keep in mind that by questioning the sutras, I don’t mean to throw any of them out entirely.  By questioning, I mean to work with them, to extract the wisdom and the medicine needed to heal each particular individual as well as to heal each society and culture. Alright, here’s an easy one, the controversial Sutra II.40. I’ve had a bone to pick with this sutra for quite some time. Until I began writing this, I had no idea this one was so infamous.

II.40 “From purification arises disgust for one’s own body and for contact with other bodies.” – Swami Satchidananda.

No doubt, this is considered the most precise translation of this sutra. The glaring problem with this interpretation lies in the word jugupsa, whichliterally means disgust. From the context of the broad society that we call America, we are gravely dis-embodied people with strong echoes of puritanical loathing and condemnation of the body rippling through our collective psyche. This repressed anti-body ethos manifests in many ways: objectification of women, sexual abuse, sexual scandals, frigidity, infidelity, amplified violent and aggressive behavior, spiritual bypassing (trying to escape through spirituality to avoid the sticky, often painful worldly relative truth), workaholism, obesity, eating disorders, a disconnection from our food, our water and our land… you get the idea. Part of our healing as Americans involves inhabiting our bodies in a loving way that re-connects our consciousness to our place in the whole complex system that each one of us is a part of. So, for a contemporary American yoga practitioner, emphasizing, encouraging and valuing bodily disgust presents numerous dangers; in short, it’s just plain harmful.

II.40 “Cleanliness of body and mind develops disinterest in contact with others for self-gratification.” – B.K.S. Iyengar.

This interpretation also presents problems such as aversion and escaping, (i.e. practitioners suspended in the ether of lofty spiritual ideals that keep the spiritual truth and the worldly truth separated). Self-gratification is defined (Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary) as “the act of pleasing oneself or of satisfying one’s desires.” Maybe, according to Patanjali, we should only have sex for pro-creation and never solely for pleasure and loving union with our chosen mortal beloved? Come on. There are healthy desires, desires that do not cause suffering. The desire to love and grow with a partner seems both earthy and “spiritual”; as does the desire to rejoice in our bodies within the boundaries of relationships that do not dissipate our energy (however you define, redefine and refine those relationships). For many of us, it takes time and mistakes in order to separate out unhealthy from healthy desires when it comes to attraction and creating a healthy partnership. Maybe this translation could be re-written “Cleanliness of body and mind develops disinterest in contact with others which will dissipate our energy.” Allow people the space to make some “mistakes” and to learn from experience, you know, the same kind of “mistakes” that Siddhartha (the guy who became the Buddha) made. As much as these saints and enlightened teachers would like to spare us their falls, personal experience is often the best teacher, possibly really the only one. Most of us still have to live their mistakes and use their path to help find our way out.

II.40 “From cleanliness arises protection for one’s own body and non-contamination by others.” – Gregor Maehl.

I’d say he’s on the right track. But still, I think it could end at this: “From cleanliness arises protection for one’s own body. [period!]” With the understanding that contact with certain activities and individuals compromises the health and wellbeing of our bodies. Most importantly, we can learn to feel our way around our activities and the people that surround us, cultivating clear body-based somatic discernment to choose right-action. We don’t have to get all stuck in our heads thinking about it too much. Do we need to freak out and create vigilant practitioners on the lookout for “contaminated” others? I don’t think so. Not so helpful.

II.40 “Through purity [he gains] distance towards his own limbs [and also] [the desire for] non-contamination by others.” – Georg Feuerstein.

This is so close to Maehl’s translation. But again, the emphasis on “distance” from our bodies, on maintaining a certain “on-guardedness” with our bodies, brings up the same problems mentioned in the previous translation. Moreover, for the countless people working to overcome trauma in their lives and learning to let go of “victim” and/or “survivor” identities, this idea of needing to be “guarded” with their body sends the message that they need to remain “on-guard”, which for these individuals usually manifests as a hyper-vigilance. It’s true that both our own behavior and other people can harm us. Through cultivating loving kindness towards our body, we learn to not choose those things. We can develop the ability to choose by listening to the natural intelligence held in the body, the sensations that we call gut instincts and intuition.

So, here’s my non-translation, or rather my adaptation of this controversial sutra. Personally, I would ditch the part about cleanliness as well.

Through the letting go of actions and attachments that dissipate one’s energy, one develops loving care for the body as a vessel.” – Gretchen Mehlhoff.

Coming ‘round full circle with all this: We don’t actually know who Patanjali was. Many consider “him” to be “all-knowing”. Regardless of whether or not Patanjali is indeed “all-knowing”, how do we get to the perennial truth that is often buried beneath layers of out-dated or inapplicable historical and/or social contexts? I suggest that we can begin to do this through identifying where we need to heal and grow as individuals and societies, and, in turn, interpreting the sutras just like we are concocting a medicinal elixir; create an understanding of the sutra that contains just what we need to promote the necessary healing and growth. This way, we become the “jungle physician.” Different people might actually need to interpret the same sutra differently to find their medicine. And- in one, two or 20 years- the same person may need to redefine their understanding again to foster their continued (as Iyengar would say) “involution.”

Wisdom isn’t given to us by anyone, not even Patanjali; we have to earn it. We have to take the teachings we are working with into our hearts, turn them over and over inside, let some of it go and add a bit to it, re-work and collaborate. It’s alchemy.

Read more from Gretchen: freethoughtsgm.wordpress.com

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Two Versions of Me

by Ashley West Roberts

In Buddhist teachings there is this concept called “the second arrow”. You may not have heard this term before but you have experienced it no doubt. The second arrow refers to our reaction to any suffering in our life. Life can be unbelievably beautiful but it is also unpredictable and painful at times. Often we have no control over “the first arrow” – we catch the flu, our lover leaves us, we lose a job, our body ages and becomes ill. As if these were not painful enough, we often, unskillfully, add judgement, blame or dismissal: the second arrow. The second arrow is usually thought based. Our mind goes on a tailspin, we lose perspective and our entire life boils down to this one event.

Here is an everyday example of the second arrow. Just yesterday I spent no less than three and a half hours working on a new playlist for my yoga classes this week. While I was making the playlist I felt excited and energized about the new atmosphere this would provide. When it came time to transfer the music from my computer to my smartphone, something wasn’t right. The music would not transfer and my playlist would not show up. I only had 20 minutes left to figure this out before I had to go teach and this (tiny, non-problem) ISSUE was driving me MAD! I got panicked and frustrated so I called my husband, the tech genius, at work to ask for his help. He tried but could not help me in the moment and I felt upset that he hadn’t dropped everything for me, causing a little rift between us for the moment. Then, admitting defeat, I went back over my day and recounted how much time I had wasted when I could have been transferring the music. I definitely should not have taken that really amazing walk in the sun with my friend, it would have given me more time to make this iPhone work! Then as my/your mind does, I went into ” I am a bad yoga teacher” and now my class will be boring and uninspiring because of the lack of music. You see how silly all of this is, yes? And all of these second arrows were shot within a matter of seconds. That is how it happens. If we are not mindful and present, we do not even know we are doing this. So here is what I did, and what I do when I find myself shooting second arrows:

STOP THE MADNESS. Move out of the space you are in to another space. Change rooms, switch park benches, take a step to the left and be still and quiet for a moment. Use the RAIN acronym to bring yourself back into presence.

Recognize

Recognize that you are in a “second arrow” moment. There are key signs in my body/mind that I am about to go there or am already there. My breath is usually shorter, everything feels urgent, suddenly I am doing a lot of blaming. Look for your own signs to tip you off so you can Recognize when you are going there.

Accept

Accept your situation, as it is, for the moment. I was never going to have music for my class that day. Accepting that would have put me in a better position to prepare. Acknowledge your current situation and try to be present for a moment.

Investigate

This one can be difficult, but it makes all the difference. Explore what is happening with curiosity and interest. When doing this, try to feel into the current flavor and quality of your experience and not psychoanalyze yourself based on your past.

Non-Attachment

You can have a thought and not be that thought. You can have an experience and not be that experience. We all know that, but in the moment we often connect the dots in a way that attaches our entire being to this one dilemma. Because I do not have music to play today, I am a bad yoga teacher incapable of helping people. Or, because I forgot to bring cupcakes to school, I am a bad mother who lets her child down. We so easily go there. There is a lot of spaciousness and freedom when we learn to take a step back from being our thoughts and experiences.

My teacher refers to this process as making space for “the one who knows”. The one who knows is you. It is just the version of you who remains present and mindful and has perspective no matter what you are experiencing in the moment. Next time you are troubled try this mini-meditation:

Use RAIN to explore what you are feeling. Then imagine yourself (your body/mind image) split into two. Now there are two of you. The one who is experiencing pain, panic, anxiety, depression and the one who has perspective. The one who can softly remind you to take a deep breath. The one that reminds you another breath is another moment, making space for a new experience.

Read more from Ashley on her website ashleywestroberts.com

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