When I binge-read a work of fiction I’m deeply entrenched in, have I checked out of my body? Am I being unmindful? Am I checking out of my life? Or, is it possible to read fiction mindfully?Read More
MindBodyBrew is ultimately about providing a space for written reflection at every step along the yoga path. We hope that by sharing assignments from our Teacher Trainees, we can expand their deep investigation into community-wide dialogue. The following is a piece written by one of our newest, current trainees, Nicholas Jon, about recent yoga classes with TaraMarie Perri and Maggie Gavin.
In classes with both TaraMarie and Maggie over the past couple of weeks, there has been a heavy emphasis on concepts related to the transition from summer to fall, and how this impacts the body, the mind, and the spirit. These ideas really resonated with me, as my life over the past couple of months has felt like one long transition: not only in terms of seasons, but also from college to the “real world,” from a set schedule to an open-ended one, and from being a practicing yogi to being a yoga teacher-in-training. It has taken me a few years to finally feel adjusted to living in New York City, but finishing school has forced me to reexamine and shift my mindset in order to adapt to new ways of experiencing the city.
The class theme of leaning into transition periods has supported me through this time and informed my daily life. A specific example that I really connected to was a class structure in which TaraMarie had us practice savasana multiple times throughout class. I have always understood savasana as having one specific purpose: allowing the work of class to set in, and relaxing the body while keeping the mind alert enough to process the physical and mental changes that have occurred. But allowing this experience to occur four or five times during one practice enlightened me to some of its other benefits. Every time I entered savasana, I had a more intense experience. The work in between was challenging, so physical exhaustion caused my body to feel more relaxed every time it was still. But at the same time, my mind became more invigorated and alert each time, with a sharper focus and a clearer ability to scan my body and notice any shifts that had taken place.
This dichotomy was a beautiful reminder of a way to cope with tricky transition periods. Though everyone has different reactions to transitions, I know they tend to overwhelm me. It’s not often that I allow myself ample time to relax and process what I’m going through, let the work I’ve been doing settle in, and get a firm grasp on my state of mind and body before allowing myself to move forward. Rather than forcing myself through transition periods, it’s better to let them happen at their natural pace without focusing on what just happened or what’s about to happen. The transition itself is just as important of an experience, and an inability to exist within it can hinder one’s ability to progress through it.
In The Wisdom of No Escape, Pema Chodron provides brilliant perspective on this subject. Her discussion of impermanence sparks the idea that our lives may actually be just one long transition from birth to death--“once you are born, you immediately start dying”--or maybe a series of extremely short transitions from our in-breath to our out-breath. In this way, the transitions that we often feel overcome by are just part of life’s natural cycle, and should be taken in stride. If we get caught up in overanalyzing these transitions or trying to escape from them, we may never feel like we've gotten to the other side of them. Even when things seem tumultuous and you might not know how to proceed, what’s important is that “you’re able to recognize [when you have met your edge] because you are open enough to see what’s happening.” If you can identify this and be okay with it, it becomes easier to embrace the fleeting nature of life, and see transitions as what they inherently are: temporary.
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.
"The sun, with all those planets revolving around it and dependent on it, can still ripen a bunch of grapes as if it had nothing else in the universe to do." -Galileo Galilei
It’s a busy time of year. Whether you’re a student preparing for exams, a performer in the midst of performance season, or an employee structuring your upcoming summer schedule, this time of year is typically bursting with obligations and opportunities. With so many commitments calling our names, it can be easy to move through each task without taking a moment to confirm that we’re actually breathing.
Now that the warmer weather is (hopefully) here to stay, perhaps it’s time to take a cue from the sun. Can we, like the sun, give each individual task our fullest attention—whether that task is as simple as ripening grapes, or as complex as keeping the entire solar system in check? Can we find ways to be present in the busiest of schedules, and find moments to pause, breathe, and be mindful of the activity we’re engaging in?
No task is too small to merit mindfulness. Whether we are brushing our teeth or typing our final essays, we can still approach each task with equal focus, and equal presence.
Can you find moments in your daily routine to check in with your breath? In the spaces between one task and the next, can you take a moment to focus and reconnect with your mind and body?
Photograph by Dawn Ellner
The following piece was written by Maggie Gavin. Maggie has been teaching yoga for The Perri Institute for Mind and Body for five years. She is currently pursuing her MSW at Fordham University to learn how to support mental health through yoga. Catch her class at Steps on Broadway: Tuesdays and Thursdays at 10 AM and Fridays at 12 PM.
It’s time for me to stop pretending I hate winter. I love winter. If my love for winter means I buck the tide of popular opinion, so be it. Winter feeds my introverted soul. I get to cozy up on the couch with my love and my favorite cup of tea, because the cold provides the perfect excuse to stay in. I get to sit in front of a fire and sip hot chocolate because going outside means my body is working hard to stay warm and should be rewarded for its effort. I get to enjoy my favorite outdoor activities – skiing, snowshoeing and ice-skating – coming home the best kind of fatigued. I get to sleep soundly through the long, dark nights. And then, when winter ends, we get a slow thawing. We get to reemerge, hopefully better rested and more thoughtful from our months of hibernation. Winter becomes not just a time for rest, but for reinvention.
I recently came across Thomas Hardy’s poem, "The Darkling Thrush". In the desolate winter landscape, there’s one voice of joy and hope. Though the thrush is battered and frail from its winter battles, its song reminds the speaker to keep the faith. Winter won’t last forever.
So here I am. Let me be your thrush, cutting through the bleakness with a joyful song. As we look forward and hope for the rising temperatures of spring, savor the rest of what winter offers. Give yourself permission to hunker down. Enjoy the quietness while it lasts.
The Darkling Thrush
By Thomas Hardy
I leant upon a coppice gate
When Frost was spectre-grey,
And Winter's dregs made desolate
The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
Had sought their household fires.
The land's sharp features seemed to be
The Century's corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
Seemed fervourless as I.
At once a voice arose among
The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
Upon the growing gloom.
So little cause for carolings
Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
And I was unaware.
Photography by Maggie Gavin
In the Northeast, it appears winter is finally here. New York City had a snowfall that stuck to the ground and accumulated (a rarity), and my friends who live on Lake Champlain report temperatures that will freeze the lake well into March. Perhaps you are a Winter Adventurer excited for cross-country skiing and ice-skating. Perhaps you are of the Winter Hibernator variety, preferring reading and fireside tea-drinking. Regardless of your winter activities, we all share the experience of succumbing to the season’s nudge to spend more time at home. When we do leave our warm caves, however, the art and science of layered dressing is a necessity.
You may be familiar with pop culture references teasing about the claustrophobic sensation of extra socks and long underwear. One of my favorites is depicted in the holiday movie, A Christmas Story, when Ralphie’s little brother is so bound up in his snowsuit that he repeatedly falls over in the snow, unable to get up again because his range of movement is so limited. We might laugh in empathy, but is there some truth to this bound-up feeling as a companion to the winter season?
The challenge we face in the winter is that our bodies feel tight and restricted most of the time, due to the weight of our layers or the boundaries of our homes. Consequently, we may close off to others. Our eyes drop down, our chests cave in, our shoulders roll forward, our spines get rigid, and our hips and legs stiffen. If you prefer a suppler body, open and at ease, being comfortable in your winter body can feel hopeless.
Only recently did I notice a twist in how we experience our mental and physical bodies in winter—one that is unique to the season. Typically we equate being outside with freedom, and being inside with time to connect to our personal space. When we go outside in winter, however, we must wrap up to protect ourselves against the elements. The result is we tighten up and contract our bodies. In some way we might be more closed off to our environment than in the other seasons. Conversely, when we come home, we strip away layers we don’t need and are more available physically to stretch and expand—but only to a certain degree.
Contraction and expansion have value and it serves us well to spend time with each experience. What are the benefits to enjoy and how can we counter the limitations of the winter condition? What if we made the layered dressing and undressing process a mindful physical practice of sorts?
Try out the following practice at least once this season. You may not do all of these tasks each time you gear up for winter weather, but they might make the process more fun if you do! If you can only find the time to add one element to your routine, I recommend you adopt the scarf ritual outlined below:
Sit on the edge of a chair and curve your spine forward to put your socks on—one at a time—and to tie your boots. Notice the snuggling of your toes in the socks, and the path from your foot to your leg as you pull up the sock or lace up the boot. At the same time, allow your neck to relax and your back muscles to lengthen from head to pelvis. When coming home, mindfully unlace the boots, and then playfully kick your socks off and wiggle your toes, allowing them to be free again!
What about laying down on your back and putting your pants on one leg at a time, while stretching and mobilizing your leg and hip joints. Lift your pelvis up for a mini-backbend similar to bridge pose, and pull your pants over your waist—thus providing a little hip flexor extension. You can reverse the pathways when undressing.
Upper Body Layers/Gloves/Hats
Can you put on and take off each layer with care, stretching and pulling the arms, hands, and head through the various channels with curiosity and sensitivity to the different textures and weaves? Sense the weight of extra layers as they go on. Notice the freedom of your limbs and skull when you remove them. Open your chest and stretch your arms overhead to release tight shoulders and look to the sky.
To me, the scarf is the magical winter layering element that signals the beauty of mindful dressing practice. The graceful winding of a long beautiful scarf around our neck wraps us with care, protection, and love as we brave the cold. We can take our time and connect to the sensation of tucking in. In contrast, the revealing unwind of our scarf when we come home indicates a letting go, freedom, and reclaimed space.
Whether you take on the full practice, or just the wisdom of having a scarf ritual, we can imagine we are wrapping and unwrapping a present as we prepare our bodies for outdoor and indoor settings. Perhaps the present is the moment we walk outside, or the moment we come back home. Perhaps the present is the symbol of winter’s gift: a beautiful landscape, and the natural quiet in our hearts and minds.
- TaraMarie Perri