One of the first aspects of meditation I was introduced to is that it can be taken anywhere and practiced at any moment. But over my first few months of consistent practice, I developed an increasing aversion to finding new spaces in which to meditate. I had my ideal space at home dedicated to my practice, which felt like enough when I considered...Read More
The following piece was written by Brianna Goodman, copy and features editor for MindBodyBrew. Brianna teaches yoga with The Perri Institute for Mind and Body in New York City. She currently attends Fordham University, where she is pursuing a degree in English and creative writing, with a minor in communications. Catch her class Sunday and Wednesday mornings at Steps on Broadway.
“If you want people to listen to you, you have to listen to them.
If you hope people will change how they live, you have to know how they live.
If you want people to see you, you have to sit down with them eye-to-eye."
-Gloria Steinem, My Life on the Road
In this passage from Gloria Steinem’s new memoir, Steinem describes bits of wisdom received in India from a group of Ghandians, members of a land reform movement inspired by Ghandi. Their wisdom: listen, learn, and see. While this advice was, for Steinem’s purposes, in regards to the organizing work that would become her career and legacy, this advice is also pertinent to everyday life. How often do we preach before we listen, or give advice before we fully understand the situation we’re advising on? How often do we demand attention, or expect an audience, before we do the work of earning that attention, and also paying attention in return?
When our lives move so quickly, and opinion pieces are written faster than the events earning those opinions can unfold, it seems required of us to formulate our own opinions and voice them immediately. But in this eagerness to describe the world in is and isn’t, in rights and wrongs that are easy to pinpoint, perhaps we are neglecting to honor the uniqueness of each situation and of each human being, with their singular circumstances and individualized history. We learn this in our yoga practices—no two bodies are the same, and often a choice that’s right for the person to our right is not what’s best for us. Yoga requires us to continuously evaluate our bodies and our minds—where is my body today? What does it need? Where is my headspace, and how does this knowledge inform my practice today?
So, how can we carry this practice of self-study off our mats and employ it with those around us, whether they be family, friends, coworkers, or strangers? Can we catch ourselves in those moments when we make snap judgements, and instead remind ourselves to ask questions and reevaluate the circumstances of a given scenario? In what ways can we make time to listen, not lecture; learn, not dismiss; and see, not simply demand to be seen?
Are there times you find yourself wanting to speak before you’ve heard? How do you incorporate the tools of svadhyaya—self-study—into your interactions with others?
The following piece was written by Kathy Hartsell, a fellow yoga instructor and mind-body practitioner who studies alongside the Mind Body Dancer® community. She writes from Boston, MA.
This past week, trotting through a familiar city path, my eyes parked on a pair of beautifully crafted doors that I had somehow grazed by hundreds of times without noticing. I leaned curiously toward these hearty panels of bronze, and as their presence swallowed my shadow, my attention tumbled through inscriptions spread across the doors' chest that nod to the history of Ceylon tea trade. Upon learning that these Salada Tea Doors have stood there tall in tadasana since 1917, I marveled at the blind spot I had been toting with me, oblivious to doors of beauty in a space I assumed I knew so well.
With one palm, I sheepishly shake hands with the fact that I have countless times floated past what I now perceive as central and defining to this block's landscape. But in the other palm, I gather from this moment deeper respect for attention and its boundaries. I experience directly what the field of cognitive psychology has to say about the things we see and miss at any given moment. I’m reminded that, of course, awareness cannot be wholly and simultaneously available for all things, and that, by design, our brains will filter the world’s stream of stimuli to extract what feels most relevant for survival. This process is a curtsy to our cognitive limits, an expression of our innate energy conservation and an example of how our attention molds our understanding of reality. Such blind spots are undoubtedly useful in numerous ways. They are also humbling in many respects. But mostly, I find them to be a call to action. Knowing that the default brain will grab only the information that seems “essential” to human survival or excessively shiny and entertaining, I’m moved to actively seek mind-spirit nourishment—the mind-stretching, soul-lifting stuff I might just miss otherwise. Exploring life beyond the obvious or expected is always an option, but it requires a continual opening of our senses and nurturing of our awareness.
Attention’s mobile nature can be challenging to sit still with, when its slippery texture and flighty rhythm can feel like the sun streaming in a bit too directly. But this same fluid quality, once stabilized, is also what enables us to choose where we move and hold our attention, whether climbing high onto the right shoulder blade or sinking low into the floor of the pelvis. This mobility is what allows me to fall in love with new things about old relationships, or recognize a habit that I could be tempted to conveniently “not see.” Both cognitive research and everyday experience assert that there is always something we have missed... and therefore, always something new to see, hear, feel, or think. This echoes with truth in all the spaces I frequent, whether walking a familiar block and noticing doors that were always there, or landing in seasoned yoga postures where fresh forms of embodiment always await.
The new year can often be overloaded on the front end with an aggressive assessment of self and life, resulting in a daunting list of expectations and aspirations that weight one’s first steps through January. But, while I’ve always valued the art of reflection and the shaping of intention at any time, I also feel the new year is best left open. Through such openness, we might just discover that in both familiar streets and new territories, there are already doors standing by, inviting awareness in.
Photograph of Salada Tea Doors by Kathy Hartsell
The following piece was written by Kathy Hartsell, a fellow yoga instructor and mind-body practitioner who studies alongside the Mind Body Dancer® community. She writes from Boston, MA.
For me, the notion of home takes the form of a puzzle. This puzzle teeters on a rickety shelf in my heart, cozied up next to a variety of other mysterious heart contents that ask for attention from time to time. A jolt to my chest has always been enough to shake this puzzle from its resting place and into my lap, where it has many times stumped me with pieces that wouldn't quite fit together.
Having moved to boarding school at a young age, I’ve grown accustomed to the low ache that drifts in with homesickness now and again. As I am sure many people do, I sometimes even feel this ache arise
in the very places and with the very people that I recognize as home.
For a while, I tried on different zip codes, convinced that the right match would surely dissolve the disconcerting tug of longing that kept showing up uninvited in my gut. But as I searched for the "perfect place" to unpack my work and stretch out my soul, I couldn't shove away the gradually growing awareness of chasing a kind of stability that our world does not offer. At tortoise pace, I began to register that my outward quest, while wonderful in its own way, would never satisfy the longing to
move into my own being
. Of course, I discovered that certain spots beneath particular skies built a welcoming space for my life, but it wasn’t until I was willing to inhabit my own housed experiences that I could understand the messages encoded in that longing. I’m sure that I am not alone in these mindful circles when I say that, despite this understanding, I forget said lessons often. I have found that the push-pull of life will quickly sweep away things I thought I had already learned, slyly granting me some kind of “insight amnesia.”
requires not only that I practice on my mat often, but that I find ways to also practice beyond the safety of designated space, and in the context of real life.
The puzzle of home has landed in my lap quite a bit in recent months. As my husband and I search for a house with a little extra room for our growing family, it’s amusing to see the long list of conditions we have created for our supposedly simple abode. Every third day we consider whether laying thicker roots down in the city even makes sense, or whether “home” might actually be somewhere else entirely. Officially waiting to adopt, we fret over how our future child will adjust to the new home we offer, and how we will best help her learn to trust this home.
As we work through these steps, I have been grateful to have Ethan Nictern’s
The Road Home: A Contemporary Exploration of the Buddhist Path
for a companion
Thanks to Audible, Ethan has been reading his witty, compassionate and timely wisdom to me as I take long walks in Boston (and ironically resist the expression of impermanence provided by September’s air!) In the book's introduction, Ethan relates a conversation between his father, David Nichtern, and the lama Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche:
My father (who loves small talk) decided not to ask a question about the Buddhist teachings. Instead, he asked Rinpoche a small-talk question: "Where do you live?" It was a simple enough question, a little dose of chitchat to blend with all that profundity. "Where do you live?" Dad asked. "When you aren't on the road--traveling, moving around, teaching---where do you live, Rinpoche?
When he heard the question translated, Khenpo Rinpoche raised the brows above his wide eyes and said something in Tibetan to his translator... "Rinpoche says to tell you that he lives in the center of his awareness!"
In a million different ways, Ethan inspires me to return to the hammock in my own heart. From his teachings, for both the literal and figurative suitability, my meditation anchor these days has become “easing home.” I can’t say that I “live” at the center of my awareness (like the Tibetan monk in Ethan’s book), but I’m quite grateful to have become a frequent visitor who can find my way there.
Photography by Kathy Hartsell.
The following post was written by TaraMarie Perri, the Founder/Director of The Perri Institute for Mind and Body. Her professional work is dedicated to yoga education and research, holistic health therapeutics, and the integration of mind/body practices with the arts and sciences. TaraMarie holds an MFA and serves on Faculty at NYU Tisch School of the Arts. She maintains private practices in New York City and Brooklyn.
As winter leaves the scene, my heart yearns to re-emerge toward the sun’s nourishing spring rays. As my heart makes the shift from beneath the protective hug of my shoulders, I notice how my posture changes. Similar to how the sun rises in the sky, I relocate more accurately my center point within. Each day I stand taller. I lift my gaze higher.
Meeting my heart again has led me on an investigation into its physiology, a celebration of its symbolism, and an inquiry into widening the circle of compassion. Below are four treasures from my hunt.
I: The Hearthstone
Greek physicist Galen said that the heart was “…the hearthstone and source of innate heat by which the animal is governed.” The use of the word animal led me to look at other forms of nature. Do plants, for instance, have a heart? I had heard that plants had nervous systems. It turns out that they do also have a vascular system--but they do not have a heart pump as animals do. Our heart pump is what makes us distinctly “animal.” It keeps us warm, it keeps the blood flow going, and it co-supports healthy respiration.
II: The Lifeforce Factory
The heart organ sits at the center of our chest cavity, and, through various pathways, carries “lifeforce” into all corners of our anatomical landscape. Veins, arteries, capillaries and miles of blood vessels are highways. The cycle flows in and out, always passing through the heart center. But go even deeper into this center, beyond the smooth muscle layer, and you will find a beautifully intricate landscape of cavities and valves. It feels like gazing into a mini factory of sorts. Because I teach movement, I often focus on the circulatory system’s function in aiding the breath and extremities--but it was through the images of the heart’s inner workings that I gained a new appreciation for its work ethic and energetic support. The heart keeps us going from three weeks after conception until death. It sends us the gift of life over and over again. It gives us the lifeforce required for living.
III: An Emotional Center
Whenever I work with students and clients requiring physical therapeutic care, a natural starting point is to ask the location of the pain or discomfort of concern. Similarly, if there is a physical emotional concern, I ask them where they “feel” its presence in their anatomy. It can be helpful in discovering the network of its cause or the nature of its impact. The heart is often a starting point.
You may have heard about the East Village explosion two weeks ago. Two people were killed, several people were seriously injured, and the lives of all of the residents and business owners in those buildings were changed in an instant. It has been amazing to watch the majority of the NYC community come together to heal and support. My NYU dance students, who occupy a nearby school building and dorm, and several of my East Village friends experienced the unfolding of this tragic event. Because I teach in the NYU building on the opposite corner of the blast, I knew several of my students must have experienced not only the blast’s concussive wave, but also the emotional exposure to the unsettling of the human lives affected around the corner. I heard phrases like “felt it down to my bones” or “into my heart” to describe their experiences of the blast as it interrupted a regular day of rehearsal and class. The surrounding buildings were evacuated for a couple of days, so we were not allowed back into the building right away. I was curious to note in my own body how I would experience the energy of the neighborhood when I entered the space--I knew it would give me a clue as to how to support my students that week in class.
Sure enough, there were unquestionable waves moving directly into my heart space. No doubt, a minor experience compared to the intensity experienced the day of the blast. While there are immediate needs required by the victims of the tragedy such as housing, food, and financial support, the essential emotional health of their hearts will also need precise and supportive care. If the explosion had penetrated the emotional heart of a neighborhood on a macro level, we can only imagine the impact on the individuals who were injured or directly affected by loss.
Undoubtedly, the heart will be the place to begin the healing process.
IV: At the Center
In 2010, Jaron Lanier wrote a manifesto entitled, You Are Not a Gadget. Lanier is the father of virtual reality technology and works on the interface between computer science and medicine, physics, and neuroscience. I encourage you to pick up this excellent book and read it cover to cover. It has countless merits for anyone interested in preserving the human experience while still accessing the benefits of technological modernization. Below is an excerpt:
“The most important thing to ask about any technology is how it changes people. And in order to ask that question I’ve used a mental device called ‘the circle of empathy’ for many years…
An imaginary circle is drawn by each person. It circumscribes the person at some distance, and corresponds to those things in the world that deserve empathy…
If someone falls within your circle of empathy, you wouldn’t want to see him or her killed. Something that is clearly outside of the circle is fair game. For instance, most people would place all other people within the circle, but most of us are willing to see bacteria killed when we brush our teeth, and certainly don’t worry when we see an inanimate rock tossed aside to keep a trail clear.
The tricky part is that some entities reside close to the edge of the circle…
When you change the contents of your circle, you change your conception of yourself. The center of the circle shifts as its perimeter is changed.”
Lanier goes on to discuss how our daily technological experience is directly informing how we define our circle of empathy. Let’s just say it is not good news. How, then, can we widen our circles of compassion when so many forces are acting on us to tighten them? This is a common inquiry for many working for connectivity in a world that seems increasingly detached and divisive. When I read this excerpt, I began to muse about the heart’s role in solving the problem. If we define the heart as an anatomical center for blood, a sacred space for our lifeforce, and an emotional symbol, can the heart also be at the center as we circumscribe our own philosophical “circle of empathy?”
I come back to the example of the East Village tragedy to demonstrate this concept. Our life behind the false community of social media is coupled with the anonymity encouraged in both urban cities and sprawling suburbs. We co-exist but do not “live” together. And yet, in a moment of tragedy, when constructs and boundaries could not be referenced, strangers rushed to help each other without pause, question, or bias. No doubt that impulse came directly from the heart as both a physiological and emotional response. Consequently, the circle of empathy of each witness widened to encircle another person who may not have been standing within its edge before that very afternoon.
What if we all “let in” someone new to our circle each day? What would be the exponential impact on community and humankind (not to mention the immediate benefits to all sentient beings on our planet) by making this simple choice?
My informal heart-inspired research period has demonstrated that anatomically, energetically, therapeutically, and philosophically, the heart holds a cultural place of importance for all of humankind. Despite all of our differences, we might have a chance to connect to each other if we recognize that every single one of us has a heart beating right at our center.
The heart matters.
- TaraMarie Perri