By taking my seat and searching for stillness, I was coming face to face with my biggest critic, my inner bully, my reluctant companion: myself.Read More
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
The following post was written by Liz Beres, a NYC-based dancer, dance teacher, and yoga teacher certified by The Perri Institute for Mind and Body. Liz currently teaches yoga privately and at various gyms, including that of the Federal Reserve Bank of NY through Plus One. She is continually intrigued by and appreciative of the power of mind/body practices, and is grateful for the chance to share her musings on MindBodyBrew’s digital platform.
Mindfulness meditation, especially when it is understood as being a way of living life as if it really mattered, moment by moment, rather than as a technique…is one powerful vehicle for realizing such transformative and healing possibilities.
-Jon Kabat Zinn, founder of MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction)
A month ago, I closed one of my yoga classes with the quote above. We had been focused that hour on moving slower, settling into most of our asana for longer durations, purposefully drawing forth distractions and barreling streams of thought. This welcoming of a busy mind set the stage for our application of mindfulness, of attempting to replace the rush with a steady attention on each moment, each breath, and the subtler facets of our movement. After class, a regular student of mine requested to hear the quote once more, as he was getting married in a few hours and hoped to carry the message with him into his day. This definitely was one of my most thrilling exchanges with a student. And yet, what generated even more excitement in me was his story upon his return to class weeks later—how he had felt so inspired by our mindfulness work that morning that he had incorporated mindfulness as a way of living into his marital vows. To commit with such depth, he told me, seems to require a persevering presence, one that must be continually cultivated so that the connection and love between two people in such an intimate relationship can survive, and ideally grow, as the years pass by.
My student’s integration of our work on the mat into a milestone of his life touched me rather profoundly. What a way to enter into a marriage, with such thoughtfulness and trust in the process of building a life together. His pull toward mindfulness in the midst of such a momentous event so vividly illustrated to me the power of this practice. The ways it can deepen our life experiences personally and in relationships with others is unfathomable.
I find its impact difficult to comprehend mostly because of the magnitude of choices we are faced with every day. I read an article recently that regarded every thought, feeling, word, and action as health creating or health negating. To consider this turns mindfulness into a real ally. Without thoughtfulness in our words and actions, we can rapidly spiral away from our values and goals, being swayed instead by convenience, peer pressure, and a host of other persuasive elements. It’s not to say that we should expect perfection from a stronger adherence to mindfulness, but in living in closer contact with each and every moment, we can spin our lives’ tales into ones that are much more centered around the core of our being. Mindfulness meditation offers tools that can break a habit of getting swept up in life’s rush; it can slow us down and steady us, so that we can recognize what reality is in front of us and what options forward from that real moment exist. The act of being mindful very much impacts our relationship to time—not getting lured by past affairs or imagined future happenings—and to our core. From a sharpened attention can come more specific, deliberate actions that ground us in our essences.
But to really tap into the power of mindfulness, to draw it off our yoga mats or meditation cushions as my student did, requires an honest understanding of ourselves: flaws and all. A recognition and trust of our intuition must exist too in order to believe what we feel and ‘know’ to be right, and from there, to accomplish feats that fulfill our deepest needs and desires.
The last few months, I’ve been working with a friend as she establishes her life coaching practice. One exercise from our sessions that has especially stuck with me is what she calls the ‘distilling of essence.’ Without giving away her prized methods, the distillation process went something like this: She requested that I ask ten family members, friends, mentors, those who know me best, what qualities I bring to a space. From there, she sifted through that mass of information to arrive at five words: love, compassion, curiosity, joy, and radiance. To brew on these words is fascinating in and of itself, but to use them alongside our mindfulness ally hugely elevates their value in my eyes. Within our essences live answers to who we are and who we can become if we can stand by that irrefutable core. Since offering me these words, my friend has encouraged me to meet difficult and easier matters with the question: Am I living by my essence? How powerfully and directly can essence guide our choices and the course of our lives— or at least the pieces that lie somewhat under our control.
Now of course the tricky part of all this is the fact that we are constantly evolving beings, so to fully know ourselves at any given moment is probably an impossible task. But as the saying goes, you don’t have to have it all figured out to move forward. If that’s the case, then is it not worthwhile to try to slow down, to try to interact with those people and elements in our surrounding environments on a more palpable level? To take the risk of deriving choices from a place of mindfulness, even if those choices lead us down unfamiliar, and perhaps intimidating paths? As author Erica Jong wrote, “[T]he trouble is, if you don’t risk anything, you risk even more.”
To hear of my student charging into marriage with such an appreciation for and comprehension of the value of smaller moments is insanely beautiful and inspiring to me. But I don’t think it should take a momentous event to draw mindfulness to the forefront of our life experience. How can we, even amongst the mundane activities of an average day, cultivate the tenets of mindfulness? How could these practices, even on a smaller scale, shift our world—our visions of ourselves, our relationships with others, our care of the planet and the world beyond? The power of choice is an unbelievably remarkable opportunity we humans possess. Let’s use it to create good, and to propel even more goodness into our world.
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 Callie Ritter, a certified yoga teacher through The Perri Institute for Mind and Body, and a Restorative Exercise Specialist as of summer 2015. She's professionally trained the connection to her body and movement as a Modern dancer for over 15 years; she aims to spend the future helping others in their bodies with her accumulating knowledge and passion. Callie was born and raised as a cowgirl in Southeast Idaho, but currently resides in New York City.
I was appreciating an average but perfect glass of rosé when I caught my reflection in a window: solitary with a wandering gaze. I grimaced at the thought of going back to my accommodation for the night, never mind, I leave for the airport at 6 AM tomorrow morning. I left my extra euros for a smiling waitress with good English, and began the hour walk back, my eyes up and watching. I shared paths with a goose whose yellow gaze studied me carefully; I secretly took pictures of people’s window displays; I asserted myself to some young punk men: “Can you please leave me alone?”
I killed time by watching the underside of a tree.
Traveling is a lonely and not-lonely thing. It brings you into the unknown, where your perception zooms out and blows open your mind—yet it also zooms in, bringing into focus the intricate texture of an experience. The edge requires you to pay attention, helping you remember what it feels like to be awake.
I made a friend from Sao Paulo named Cauay. I remember his dark eyes shifting serious when he paused to see if his physician skills were needed in a huddled crowd in Amsterdam’s Red Light District. He later ordered Nutella-smothered waffles with such introverted, boyish excitement that it made me smile. I already had my pack on as he stirred from sleep on his bottom bunk. I wished him luck and shared our last glance.
Ellie was a mother and daughter and asked about my love relationships as we sunk our bare feet into the sand of a windy beach. We rode cruiser bikes under arches of great green trees, and on our path the sun laid Dalmatian-print shadows. She told me about being a new Singaporian, and how you can always start over—because you always have a choice. Whenever she orders tea, it’s usually for the biscuit that comes with it.
I had too many clothes on for the temperature inside the bus, but was too busy scanning for a recognizable street sign, my stomach unsettled. Quit pretending to know what you’re doing Callie—because the truth is you don’t. This is all new.
Traveling sharpens the perspective. I feel and see much more than I do in my normal life. I breach the ‘stranger wall’ by crawling over to ask someone for help, or if they mind having company. I open myself up to the experience—however uncomfortable, bland, or blissful it may be. I take in my surroundings and spread my consciousness, and something truly unique happens; I feel like I’m a part of it all.
Intersubjectivity is a philosophical and psychological term to define how one’s subjective, identity-driven experience relates to another’s. It’s typically found in anthropological and social contexts describing shared common culture and things we agree upon. On a deeper scale, it can provide a pure definition of relationship, where and when it is that we see eye-to-eye, or rather as I want to venture: eye-into-eye.
I implore to the goose, “Come on, be my friend. I’m sad I’m traveling alone.”
The goose replies by sidestepping away. “You’re a strange and tall creature who seems to want something.”
The city’s energy fades like a weekday, and the light from the west is dimming golden into blue. I’m wearing sneakers without socks and have a belly full of bread.
Traveling isn’t comfortable, and branching into new territory can be risky, but it requires you to absorb information at a heightened intake. This newly expanded awareness leads you to observe a moment so deeply that you begin to merge with it. Merge with the glance of the waitress, the sip of glassy rosé, the wet-foot smell of a hostel, the way sun comes through the trees. When you’re open to the smells, the sounds, and how you feel in a situation, you view yourself from the outside and you see what all around you sees as well. This is intersubjectivity: relating to everything else to the point that you dissolve into and overlap realities. You find that feelings of discomfort can actually help seal in how real an experience can be.
The Third Nobel Truth of Buddhism states that a remedy to the inherent discomfort of life is a state of Nirvana or connectedness. Christos Yannaras, philosopher and author, writes, “We know God by cultivating a relationship, not by understanding a concept.” Connection is about living in a state ofrelationship where all comes into focus. This is my meditation. My practice as a yogi is to try to come back to this state of intersubjectivity over and over again, and do so on and off the mat.
I step off the plane into the humidity of a high noon. Fulton Street is full of color and swagger and fresh ripe mangos in rows. I’m home but I’m not the same. What does this feel like? What are they wearing and saying; what’s in that window?
Can you experience the same walk home freshly each time? Can you get out of your head and into your body and your environment, and touch it with your perception? Wherever you are, do you hear the birds? The sirens? Humanity’s breath and profanity? Yourself inside this moment? Whatever the experience is—don’t you want to be here for it? Within it?
Photography by Callie Ritter.