Breath by James Nestor

I recently finished listening to the audio version of the NY Times bestselling book called “Breath, The New Science of a Lost Art,” by James Nestor. It is one of the most interesting, informative books I have read (listened to) in a long time. As one reviewer said, “If you breathe, you need this book.”

I have always loved the sister practice to yoga called Pranayama. It is the study and practice of harnessing the breath to create more vitality in the body. I enjoy the effects that thoughtful breathing has for my well-being. This book includes the wisdom and practice of pranayama and then adds in modern science.

James Nestor does a 10-year deep dive into all aspects of how we breathe and how this breathing has changed and evolved or, more accurately, devolved over the centuries. He bravely uses his body as a guinea pig to learn more about his sleep apnea and other breathing related problems, which also affects so many of us. Hypertension, depression, anxiety, sleep apnea, snoring, stress and auto-immune diseases are all problems that could be helped by breathing better.

“The ability to breathe so efficiently in a wide variety of ways-consciously and unconsciously; fast, slow, and not at all-allowed our mammal ancestors to catch prey, escape predators, and adapt to different environments. It was all going so well until about 1.5 million years ago, when the pathways through which we took in and exhaled air began to shift and fissure. It was a shift that, much later in history, would affect the breathing of every person on Earth, ” says Nestor.

Nestor includes practical breathing advice for everyone, no yoga practice required. How we breathe day in and day out truly does matter. Simple changes can be made to great effect. If I could, I would make this book required reading for everyone.

No Hurrying

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"When everything hurries everywhere, nothing goes anywhere." 
~Dejan Stojanovic

Each day we get closer to how life used to be before the pandemic hit. In the last year or so, we have all had the chance to slow down. Going a little slower in general has many benefits. I have talked before about how speed and needless rushing around can become internalized in the body. ( blog entitled “Speed”) I know I feel a little hesitant to go full-speed back to life as it was. 

This feeling has reminded me of some wisdom I received years ago when training to be a Relax and Renew certified teacher with Judith Lasater. I have mentioned her many times in my blogs, as I consider her to be a beloved teacher and mentor. Judith says that many people become stressed because of their attitude about time. Each of us is given the same amount of time each and every day. The variable is how we fill it.  

Sometimes we confuse keeping ourselves busy with giving our life meaning. When we artificially create urgency in our lives, we inhibit our ability to be compassionate. Impatient, angry people add to their own suffering. For every thought that crosses the mind, there is a physiological change. This becomes a compounding effect when repeated on a daily basis. To counter this, we should learn to move quickly when it’s necessary, but without the weight of anxiety and blame piled on top. 

Rather than telling yourself “there is not enough time to get there by 6:00," instead say “apparently I didn’t leave enough time to arrive by 6:00.” Tell yourself you will not create suffering for you or anyone else because you are moving so quickly. Time is big, so allow it to be spacious in your life. As Judith says, “ Don’t try to make the present moment peaceful, make peace with the present moment.”

Many thanks to Jennifer Botka who takes beautiful notes during yoga workshops. And to Judith Lasater for her wisdom.

That Spark

I met my husband, Rob, on an ordinary summer night in Wichita, Kansas in 1982. The same year as the invention of the internet, the arrival of the McNugget, ET, the moonwalk, Risky Business, the minivan and AOL. I was out with girlfriends at the local college bar. I noticed him across the room and I think he noticed me at the same time. Our eyes kept meeting and each time we locked eyes, I felt an electric current run through me. It felt like lightening striking. When he finally approached me, I felt lit up by that invisible current. I marvel at that random meeting now.

That spark, that current, and that invisible lightening strike was enough to begin a life-long romance. We had known of each other before this encounter. Wichita is a very “small” large town, yet I had no clue about his personality, his preferences or his morals. He is two years older than me and the big brother to a lovely girl in my high school class named Anna. I knew a few of his friends from working at the same pizza place one summer. And that was it. Yet here he was, and I knew meeting him was going to be big. The match had been lit and while we couldn’t predict what would come next, I felt a deep sense of knowing. My soul’s recognition of his soul.

We married on June 7th, 1986. That year was a sad one in many ways…the Chernobyl disaster, the Challenger crash and the beginning of a recession to name a few events. Yet that 105-degree day could not have been a happier one for us. In front of a large group of family and friends, we committed ourselves to each other. It’s a commitment that has survived the test of births, deaths and all the joys and sorrow of life in-between.

It is our 35th wedding anniversary this year, and we have fanned and coddled and protected that spark as if it were the olympic torch. I feel fortunate that he is as deeply invested in our marriage as I am. It takes two as the saying goes. I wish I could understand what causes that spark to happen. I think it’s the same spark that inspires art and novels and great sports moments. I like to think of it as a wink from the divine or a nudge from the universe to go in this direction. Whatever it is, I feel so happy we both felt it and continue to nurture it this many years later. Happy Anniversary to my Rob. Let’s keep it lit for another 35 years.

Happy Memorial Day and New Day for Public Class

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Happy Memorial Day from the Yoga Goat. I take my freedom for granted most days. Today my heart is with those who serve now and those that paid the ultimate price for this beautiful country.

As we turn the page to summer, there is a new schedule beginning at Prairie Yoga. This week the studio is opening back up to in person classes while maintaining online offerings. My Zoom Gentle Yoga class will now take place Wednesdays at 5:00pm CST. This is a nice time of day to unwind from your day and reset for your evening. I hope to “see” you in class! To find out more and to sign up please visit: https://prairieyoga.org

I continue to offer private yoga classes on zoom and in person classes in the Phoenix area. Feel free to message me privately for the details and to set up a time: amyluwho2@att.net

Walking Meditation

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We are of the earth, and belong to You
Every step that we take upon You
should be done in a sacred manner;
each step should be as a prayer.
~Black Elk

Summer weather is on the way. A time when we shed our socks and wear more sandals, or even go barefoot when possible. I have many wonderful memories of running around barefoot as a kid. Nowadays, it's harder to get away with bare feet in public. Yet, I still love it. 

Whether you can be barefoot or not, walking without having a destination can actually be a very grounding meditation. Paying attention to each footfall as it walks on the earth can help to quiet the mind. Feel the connection of the foot as it hits the earth and be completely present to the feel of the grass or sand with each step. In his book "Present Moment, Wonderful Moment," Thich Nhat Hahn says, "We walk all the time, but usually it is more like running. Our hurried steps print anxiety and sorrow on the Earth. If we can take one step in peace, we can take two, three, four, and then five steps for the peace and happiness of humankind."

Mindful walking will actually quiet the mind and slow down our breathing so that it is in harmony with our steps. Spending ten to thirty minutes walking mindfully can have the same effect as sitting for meditation. And, if you are lucky enough to get to be barefoot, the feel of grass or sand under your feet can even connect you to your inner child and that joy of summertimes past.
The mind can go in a thousand directions.
But on this beautiful path, I walk in peace.
With each step, a gentle wind blows.
With each step, a flower blooms.
 ~Thich Nhat Hanh

Minimalism

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The minimalist life is our new way of being. We moved from a 4 bedroom home to a 2 bedroom apartment almost two years ago, with the plan to live in the apartment for a year while we looked for a small garden home or condo. Then the pandemic happened and Rob and I have co-existed in our small little apartment since. One would think that might be a recipe for disaster. But it has actually been surprisingly easy. We have all of the creature comforts one needs in a home and nothing we don’t. After 30 years of home ownership, it feels like freedom. We have friends worried about their yards, their roofs, their home maintenance and we realize how easy we have it. The time we used to spend on home maintenance is now spent on other interests. And those interests are healthy, for the most part. Being outside, finding new recipes to try and exercise are things we have more time for now. There is no longer that feeling of needing to be doing something else. By de-cluttering our lives, we have brought ease to our minds.

I write about this because many of us do a Spring cleaning this time of year. Maybe you aren’t going as extreme as we have, but it’s possible to lighten your load in other ways.

Here are some minimalist ideas:

  • Check out your local library. When I see a book I’d like to read, I add to my request list. I have enough books on my list that I almost always have something new to read. It’s a great way to resist buying and it is very eco-friendly.
  • When you bring something new into your space, see if there is something that you can donate from your space.
  • Now that the worst days of the pandemic are behind us, is it really necessary to stockpile?
  • Shop resale stores.
  • Spend less time looking at ads, whether on tv, online or magazines. Seeing bright shiny things makes you want to buy bright shiny things.
  • Rather than gifting someone a material item, consider giving them a fun experience instead.
In the end, only three things matter:
How much you loved,
how gently you lived,
and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you. 

Jack Kornfield

Coming Back

How does the country opening back up feel to you? For me, it feels like this adorable chipmunk whose image we captured on a bike ride the other day. As a collective, we are all emerging from our nests to see what it’s like out there now. How is your world different? Has the pandemic changed your approach to life, work, or how you manage relationships? It’s my hope that there has been a shift in our priorities. That we have learned that it’s ok to not be so busy in ways that aren’t fulfilling. And just maybe we have learned to be more compassionate towards our fellow man.