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.

Happy Fourth of July

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Happy Fourth of July from the Yoga Goat! As my teacher, Tias Little, said yesterday at the end of class…Happy Interdependence Day! We are all dependent on each other for our well being. While this holiday looks different for most of us this year, let’s not forget the connections of family and friends that support and lift us up.

Center of the Brain

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Back in March I was fortunate to enjoy a free webinar from one of my favorite teachers, Judith Hanson Lasater, and her daughter Lizzie Lasater entitled “Love in the time of the Virus.” It was a great experience and, as expected, I was able to pull several nourishing nuggets from the session.

One that has really stuck with me is a visualization technique to help quiet what Buddhists refer to as the “Monkey Mind.” Monkey Mind is a state of being where your thoughts are swirling and rapid, so much so that they become your focal point. These intruding thoughts could be fear or stressed based, oriented in the past or future, and can make you feel consumed and agitated.

The technique starts with simply taking a moment to see that you are breathing diaphragmatically, which is taking slow, deep breaths that allow the belly to expand with the inhale and release with the exhale. Do this a few times and slowly shift your focus and awareness to your skull. Notice the front and back of the skull. Then notice both sides of the skull. Then shift your focus to the center of the brain, and rest there. Deep in the center of the brain is the basal ganglia. They are neurons responsible for movement, emotion, learning and complex motor activity. With your awareness here, relax and try to feel as if you are uniting and quieting all of these activities.

When I practice this, I feel an almost instant quieting of these swirling thoughts. Try this technique as part of a meditation practice or when you just need that moment of zen during the day. Maybe it’s while you are making dinner, or standing in line at Trader Joe’s. Shift the focus back to yourself, find the center of your brain, and bring some calm into your world.

The Opening of Eyes

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A poem by David Whyte,
from the book "Songs for Coming Home" 


That day I saw beneath dark clouds
 the passing of light over the water 
and I heard the voice of the world speak out.
 I knew then as I had before 
life is no passing memory of what has been,
 nor the remaining pages in a great book waiting 
 to be read. 
It is the opening of eyes long closed.
 It is the vision of far off things 
seen for the silence they hold. 
It is the heart after years 
of secret conversing 
speaking out loud in the clear air. 
It is Moses in the desert
 falling to his knees before the lit bush.
 It is the man throwing away his shoes
 as if to enter heaven
 and finding himself astonished,
 opened at last, 
fallen in love with solid ground. 

Leave them better

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“Shower the people you love with love, show them the way that you feel. Things are gonna be much better if you only will,” sings iconic musician James Taylor.

My husband and I recently celebrated a wedding anniversary, and spent part of the evening listening to James. His songs remind us of the wonderful times we spent listening to him while we were dating, and are a nostalgic balm.

Earlier we had received a gorgeous bouquet of flowers from my in-laws. My mother-in-law, Libby, makes the effort to send us calla lilies each year in remembrance of the flowers I carried on my wedding day. She is someone who knows how to shower the people she loves with love. She has the ability to raise other people’s positive vibrations just by her presence. It starts with her southern charm, and is then fueled by her generous heart. She has the gift of truly listening, understanding what someone is needing, and finding a way to give it to them. To say that I scored big in the mother-in-law department is an understatement.

Now more than ever it seems like the time for us all to try to lift each other up and provide positive vibrations. And not just friends and family, but everyone we encounter. We are all feeling pain. It started with the coronavirus, then the layoffs and closings, and has deepened with the senseless death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Like others, I have seen normal encounters become angry exchanges much too quickly these last weeks. Now is the time to not only shower the people we love with love, but to shower ALL people with love. It’s time to take a deep breath and try to feel compassion for the person in front of you before acting or speaking. You don’t know what pain they might be feeling. With each interaction you have think to yourself: how can I leave this person better than I found them? Give a kind word or bigger smile to those we encounter. Leave them better than you found them with the kindness that lives in all of our hearts.

Things are gonna be much better if you only will.

There is magic everywhere

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I was once again inspired by an entry on my page-a-day calendar from Buddha Doodles entitled “There is magic everywhere.” The challenge for all of us, especially in these strange and sad days, is to be open to a little magic. On by bike rides I get to see the magic of spring each day. Arizona springs are brand new to me. There are so many blooming bushes and cactus. I have been surprised by their beauty. I have also seen the magic of rebirth that comes with spring. So far I have seen a mother quail with her twelve little chicks attempting to fly, multiple mother ducks swimming with their ducklings and mother chipmunks attempting to corral their offsprings into their burrows. Sometimes it’s hard to keep my eyes on the path with all of the activity that surrounds me. I remind myself each ride to be open to the magic around me.

I recently had a magic moment at our complex’s pool. I noticed a woman who was completely absorbed in her book. She wore a large brimmed sunhat and was lying on her stomach. She seemed oblivious to what was going on around her, as she was engrossed in her book. As I looked at her, a beautiful black and gold butterfly flying around her. It hovered over her for several minutes, and only seemed to be interested in her. A few minutes later we were asked to vacate the pool for routine cleaning. I found myself standing beside this woman as we waited to be let back in. I shared with her what I had seen…That this butterfly seemed to have singled her out for a visit. She looked amazed and told me that her son had died just one month ago. We both teared up. I described the butterfly to her and said it was truly one of the most beautiful ones I had ever seen and the only reason I mentioned it to her was that it only seemed interested in her. She shared with me the book she had been so engrossed in. ‘Shattered: Surviving the Loss of a Child.’ It was truly a magical moment. I felt honored that even though she had missed the magical moment herself, I could be a conduit to it. We now smile warmly each time we see each other. A magical moment that we now share.

Can we continue to look for signs, and the magic in the moment despite these times we are experiencing? Police officers kneeling with demonstrators gives me hope. A thousand phones lit up for 8 minutes and 46 seconds gives me hope. Change must truly happen. We cannot forget this moment. We must keep looking for the magic despite the darkness and find our way to peace, change, understanding and healing.

Private Yoga Online

After much consideration, I have decided to offer private yoga classes online to those that are interested. I have been enjoying the yoga classes I have been taking online during the pandemic. I feel it is now the way of the future. I also am concerned about keeping students safe. I feel private, one- on-one, or a household of family members and friends, is the way to go for me. I specialize in gentle/restorative yoga and yoga for cancer survivors, however I also teach Hatha alignment based yoga. We can practice with vigor, ease or both.

Of course, I will tailor the practice to you! We will have a brief conversation at the beginning of our time together and I will choose the poses to practice based on what’s going on with you that day. I am excited to share my love of Yoga! I will be giving discounts for joining my email list (subscribing) The-Yoga-Goat.com and for buying a block of four classes. Privates will be $40 for the hour, $35 with a subscription. A block of 4 privates will be $150, and $130 with a subscription. Please reach out via email to amyluwho2@att.com. Or you can comment to this blog or DM me!

Resting Face

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The buddha’s face is often referred to as a visual reminder of a face at peace. An example of contentment. I have noticed lately that many people carry tense, stern faces as they move through the day. Many refer to this as resting ***** face. These are hard days with a lot of added stress. And it doesn’t help that many of us spend a lot of time on our phones, and that adds even more opportunities for stress. So here is a de-stressing practice to try.

When looking at details on a phone, we tend to narrow the brow. The space between the eyes becomes smaller. Our heads spend a lot of time in a downward gaze, and our shoulders tend to creep up toward the ears. Have you heard of the syndrome called Tech Neck? It’s also called Anterior Head Syndrome. It describes how the head pitches forward relative to the shoulders. And the more we use our phones and computers, the worse it can get.

So next time you catch yourself staring at your screen, look away and blink. See that the space between your eyes is wide and spacious. Release your lower jaw away from your upper jaw. Soften your tongue and release it to your lower palate. Lengthen up through the back of your skull and draw the chin slightly back and down. Take some nice deep breaths and see where any tension is lingering. This could be at the temples, forehead or even the scalp. Keep breathing deeply to let it all release.

Check in with yourself throughout the day. What does my resting face feel like? Create a peaceful resting face by turning up the outer edges of the lips and soften the gaze of the eyes allowing them to radiate peace and joy. A resting face of contentment.

Future Thinking?

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It’s an interesting exercise to consider how much time you spend with thoughts about the future. Most of us like to do a little planning, and even wishful thinking, about what’s coming up next. But at a time like this it’s hard to say what will be going on next year, next month, or even next week.  

For us, future thoughts are mostly about our daughter’s wedding in October. Planning that kind of event truly requires future thinking.  Other than that we have no plans.  We have things we would like to do, like trips to see friends and family. But it feels premature to make concrete plans that aren’t absolutely necessary.  

The future has never been a guarantee, yet we have taken it as if it is.  This pandemic has really brought home the idea of uncertainty.  But what if it has also provided us a gift? What if we all took this opportunity to focus on the present, instead of the uncertainty of the future? A reboot of the brain to stay closer to the now.  Concentrating on the day we are in, and trying not to stray too far from the moment  The present is the gift.  The gift is the present.

Today

Today I’m flying low and I’m not saying a word.

I’m letting all the voodoos of ambition sleep.

The world goes on as it must,

the bees in the garden rumbling a little,

the fish leaping, the gnats getting eaten

and so forth.

But I’m taking the day off.

Quiet as a feather.

I hardly move though really I’m traveling a terrific distance.

Stillness – one of the doors into the temple.

–Mary Oliver