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Breath

This week, I started an 8-week writing class. It’s the first time I’ve taken an in-person, honest-to-goodness writing class so I’ve been intently working on my pieces for that. Today, I thought I had one ready to submit to my instructor and classmates…until my Chief Reading Officer (my husband) and I realized there was a huge disconnect in the middle of it. So I’m beginning again.

Which seems like an excellent opportunity to return to this post on practicing that from last year.
Big breath. Begin again.

Originally posted on March 15, 2o16.

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Art in Action is a weekly post: a simple, practical guide to applying the ideas and principles in the Focus Pocus posts to your body and life. As always, I love to hear from you about how you use them and how you translate the ideas into action.

There is something you want to do. Or something you don’t want to do anymore. You have a habit you want to break or one you want to start. You want to create something or go somewhere or build something up or clear something out.

That’s awesome.

Here’s the thing, though. You will mess up. Or something will go wrong. Or you’ll forget. Or you’ll put it off. I wish I could tell you that it will all go swimmingly just exactly as you’d like with nary a bump in the road.

And yeah, NOPE that’s not the way it’s going to go.

Which you could see as a bad thing or you could see as a way to practice beginning again. Let’s go with the latter. Here are 3 ways (plus a bonus) to practice beginning again.

1. At the Start ~ Plan to Begin Again

When setting an intention for something, think about what you want to do (or not do), when you’ll do it, with whom, and all the details of how you are planning on doing it. AND, include in those plans what you will do when you get off track. What will you do when you notice that you are doing what you didn’t want to do or vice versa. Expect to get off track and plan to begin again.

2. In the Midst ~ See the Magic Moment

While you’re in the process of your new habit or plan, be on the lookout for thoughts calcifying around the practice when it goes awry. Notice if you think things like, “See? I can’t do this.” Or, “I keep forgetting, I might as well give up.” Or, “This is just not something I can stop doing. It would be easier to just keep doing it.”

Instead, see the moment that you realize you’ve lost connection with your intention as a magic moment. Use it as an opportunity to begin again. The magic isn’t in being perfect. The magic is in noticing when you’ve gotten off course and choosing to begin again.

3. At the End ~ Be an Awesome Rebounder

In basketball, the best rebounders are the ones that count on the ball NOT going in the net. The best rebounders can’t wait to make something great out of a misfired shot.

Once a project is launched or the words have been said or the soufflé has been baked, there is no taking it back. If the reviews are terrible or if feelings are hurt or if you have a lump of egg baked in the pan, what can you do now? How can you start again or repurpose what’s happened? Begin again by reworking or rethinking the project, apologizing and saying what you meant to say, or calling it a quiche.

Be an awesome rebounder and begin again from a missed shot.

BONUS: Close your Heart to No One

Pay attention if your heart closes to anyone, especially yourself. Remind yourself that everyone ~ EVERYone (even that one person you just thought of) ~ is doing their best. If you feel that tight clenching around someone, take a breath and let your heart soften. More skillful decisions come from an unclenched heart. (It’s important to note that keeping your heart open to someone does not mean to stay in a hurtful or abusive situation. My heart can stay open as I say, No, you may not do that to me or say that to me or treat me that way.)

And if you forget, and you close your heart to someone, that’s great! It’s a magic moment when you realize it and a chance to begin again.

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One of the most terrifying experiences I’ve ever had was on the streets of Boston’s North End. I wasn’t mugged and no mafia bosses wanted me to sleep with the fishes, but it scared the life out of me just the same.

On a Sunday afternoon, my boyfriend and I were double-parked in front of our apartment so we could unload our car. As much as Bostonians love hockey, football, and baseball, their two favorite sports are double parking and yelling at each other for double parking. So it was no surprise that a man in a Jeep pulled into our street and yelled about how stupid we were for parking like that. What was surprising was when my boyfriend, John, said something back to him, the guy jumped out of his car, flew across the sidewalk and smacked John in the face.

As scary and upsetting as this was, it was only then that the truly terrifying thing happened: I. Lost. My. Mind.

In a flash of white hot rage, I ran up to the man, got inches from his face, and screamed at him about his cowardice and lack of intellectual acuity (not my actual words). I bumped his chest with mine. I told him what a craven loser I thought he was. I dared him to hit me. He didn’t. Instead, he spit some hot words and drove away.

What terrified me wasn’t the angry Boston driver. It was me. I had no idea I had a lunatic living just under my skin. No idea about the fire in me that could be released so fast. It wasn’t the fight with a stranger but my own explosive fury that scared the bejeezus out of me.

Compare my story with one of my favorites from “Flip the Script,” an episode in the latest season of the Invisibilia podcast*: two families gather on a summer night on a backyard terrace for dinner and celebration. In the midst of their happy evening, a man walks into their midst with a gun. He points it at one of the women and tells them that if they don’t give him all their money, he will shoot her. But the group was outside, having a meal. No one had any money. None. The gunman didn’t believe them and ramped up his threats.

Then a woman at the table spoke up. “Will you have a glass of wine with us?”

Her question disarmed him in every sense. He put down his gun, had a glass of wine, ate a little cheese and asked for a hug. He thanked them and quietly left, gently setting his empty glass on the steps as he walked away.

Psychologists call the woman’s offer of wine noncomplementarity or doing the opposite of what the other is doing. The most natural response in any interaction is complementary behavior: to treat the other person as they treat you. If they are kind, it’s most natural to be kind back. If they are aggressive to you, well, remember me and the Boston guy?

But sometimes, the most powerful thing to do is noncomplementary: to get out of sync with the other.

Noncomplemenarity isn’t easy. It requires us to override our natural instinct and intuition. And as the Invisibilia story (ans any nonviolent protest from Gandhi to civil rights) points out, making that unnatural choice can completely turn situations around.

Buddhists call it tonglen: a practice which Pema Chödrön describes as “…a method for connecting with suffering—ours and that which is all around us…. a method for overcoming fear of suffering and for dissolving the tightness of our heart.”
(read a helpful article about tonglen by Ani Pema here.)

Simply stated, tonglen is the practice of breathing in suffering and breathing out ease for that suffering. (Do a short tonglen practice with her here.)

My favorite description of tonglen and the one I return to over and over comes from the book How Yoga Works by Geshe Michael Roach**. In it, we imagine suffering as inky black tar around the heart of another. As we breathe in, we draw the sticky black suffering out of their heart and pull it into the flame of our own heart which explodes the blackness into white light.

We can practice tonglen or noncomplementarity whenever we encounter suffering: in our own bodies or minds, in relationships with our nearest or with strangers, in our communities and organizations, and in animals and the environment, in countries and the world. Instead of meeting suffering with suffering, instead of turning away, meet suffering with the heat and light of the heart.

The fire that exploded in me on that Boston street was instinct and reflex. I regret it as it felt terrible and did nothing to put more love into the world. Although I haven’t witnessed that kind of attack since then, I see and am aware suffering every single day. I do my best to practice and breathe and use my flame as best I can.

It doesn’t always work. I can still get lit up with all kinds of complementarity especially when I see someone inflicting suffering on someone else. But I practice now with the intention of using my fire more skillfully to burn away suffering’s black toxic tar wherever it is happening.


* Did you click on the link to the Invisibilia show? The whole episode is great but at the very least, listen to the actual participants tell the story. Click here.

** I’ve included the complete passage from How Yoga Works by Geshe Michael Roach here as it is visceral and powerful. May it be of benefit.

“’Inside your heart is a tiny red flame, like the flame at the top of a candle. This flame is the power of our selfishness – the habit we have of taking care of ourselves first, and neglecting what others need or want….Look into the Sergeant’s heart. Right there in the middle is a dark, rotten little pool of blackness. It is his sadness, it is his pain; it is the reason why he drinks, and it is his drinking….You want to take this pain away from him, forever. It’s the compassion we spoke about before; it is the real reason why you are doing yoga. And you decide that you want to take his black pain away so badly that you would even take it into yourself, if it meant you could save him from it….And so you begin to take say seven long, slow breaths. The first time you breathe in, that little evil pool of darkness in the center of the Sergeant’s heart stirs and moves; it starts to rise up out of his body, like an ugly cloud of blackness. And as you take more breaths it is sucked up out of his chest, up his throat, and then out of his nostrils. And knowing you would take it on yourself to save him from it, you take all his drunken misery in that little cloud of darkness and you keep breathing it in, and in again, drawing it towards your own face. And then hold it there, just outside your own nostrils….And now something will happen; it will happen a little quickly and so you have to concentrate well upon this part. In one breath you will suck the blackness in through your own nose; you will take it upon yourself. The blackness will come down your throat, into your chest and then slowly – very slowly – it will approach the little red flame of your selfishness: the part of you that would never even imagine taking away someone else’s pain, if it meant having it yourself instead. And the blackness floats slowly towards the edge of the flame, and then suddenly the black makes contact with the red, and there is a burst of beautiful golden light, like a bolt of lightning shining in the purest gold. And in that moment, because you are willing, in that moment, to swallow all the Sergeant’s pain into yourself, the crimson fire of your own selfishness is extinguished, forever. It is gone. And in this explosion too the blackness of the Sergeant’s pain is destroyed: destroyed for him, destroyed for you, destroyed forever. For this is the power, the power of the grace of selfless compassion for others.” (How Yoga Works by Geshe Michael Roach pp 93-95)

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It’s been a wild (and sometimes chilly) week of exploring space inside and out. We danced to the 2013 routine Airborne and on Tuesday, we did it outside on the rooftop deck in 37 degrees! One of the more unusual classes I’ve taught, I’ll admit.

And check out this great visual of the changing internal space of breath that Sheila Queen sent.
Cool, huh?

You can find all playlists below or you can choose to listen to them by going to Spotify! You can listen for free at Spotify! Sign up for free, follow me at “susanmcculley” and you’ll find my public playlists ~ just click and listen!

Below are the playlists for the week, but first here are a bunch of cool things happening soon:

• Earth Day, Friday, April 22, 545-7pm, acac downtown ~ Group Ex Studio
Susan & Mary Linn are teaming up for a special class celebrating our big mama, Earth. Join us for a playful exploration of how the elements of earth, wind, water and fire manifest in movement and in our bodies.

• A Spring Thing, Friday, April 29, 545-715pm, Buck Mountain Episcopal Parish Hall*, Earlysville
Join Susan & Mary Linn for an evening of movement choices. Spring can be a time of both riding the ebullient wave of upward energy and finding peace in the midst of all that blossoming and growing! The first portion of the evening will be a look at some of the basics of Nia movement and how each can be adjusted as to the needs of your body in the moment. Then we’ll practice those movements in a Spring Thing Nia class experience. Free to everybody (donations gratefully accepted for the Buck Mountain Health and Wellness Ministry).
* 4133 Earlysville Road, Earlysville VA 22936 ~ GPS will take you to the church; the Parish Hall is the small white building just past the church.

• dance. sit. write. draw. returns! Saturday, May 7, 830am-5pm – EARLY REGISTRATION RATE OF $80 EXTENDED TO APRIL 14!
Living life as an artist isn’t a path for some rarified few, it’s our birthright. All of us. You might have lots of experience with dancing, meditating, writing, and drawing. Or you might have none. Spending the day blending these practices is a way of opening the channel of your artist self ~ giving it some oxygen and space no matter what your experience is. Join us for a delicious day. Early registration rate of $80 extended to April 14! Now’s the time, my friends.
Also, I’m making a series of four short videos about why you might consider coming to the retreat. The first three are up and ready to be watched (you could binge watch all 3 in 7 minutes):
Why dance. sit. write. draw.?
Wait, why dance. sit. write. draw., again? (Or, Why Pablo Picasso and I Want You To Come To The Retreat)
Dance. sit. write. draw. (It’s a thing!)

Go to susanmcculley.com/workshops for the details and to register. Or email sjmnia@gmail.com with questions.

As always, please let me know if you have questions or how I can help more.
Dance on. Shine on.
Susan sig

*** PLAYLIST NOTE: My playlists can also be found on Spotify https://www.spotify.com/us/ by following “susanmcculley” (no space) and look for Public Playlists. Sometimes music is not available on Spotify so I may replace with another version or skip songs . ***

Monday, Apr 4, 2016, 1045am ~ Breath: Integrate Sky

Big Sky 4:04 Annie Lennox
Down To Earth 5:59 Peter Gabriel
Breathe 4:12 Blue Stone
Water Down the Ganges 7:10 Prem Joshua & Manish Vyas
Freedom 2:50 Tyrone Wells
Nothing But the Water (II) 5:17 Grace Potter & The Nocturnals
I’m Alive (Life Sounds Like) 3:52 Michael Franti & Spearhead
Sunchyme 3:54 Dario G.
Breathe 4:17 Telepopmusik
Dust in the Wind 3:30 Daughter Darling
Feel It All – Band Jam 3:50 KT Tunstall
Child Come Home Foxtrot Delta 2 3:29 Jamie Catto
Jai Radha Madhav 6:27 Deva Premal

Tuesday, Apr 5, 2016, 840am ~ Breath: Integrate Sky

**danced on the rooftop deck in 37 degrees!!
Big Sky 4:04 Annie Lennox
Down To Earth 5:59 Peter Gabriel
Breathe 4:12 Blue Stone
Water Down the Ganges 7:10 Prem Joshua & Manish Vyas
Freedom 2:50 Tyrone Wells
Nothing But the Water (II) 5:17 Grace Potter & The Nocturnals
I’m Alive (Life Sounds Like) 3:52 Michael Franti & Spearhead
Sunchyme 3:54 Dario G.
Dust in the Wind 3:30 Daughter Darling
Feel It All – Band Jam 3:50 KT Tunstall
Child Come Home Foxtrot Delta 2 3:29 Jamie Catto
Jai Radha Madhav 6:27 Deva Premal

Wednesday, Apr 6, 2016, 11am ~ Breath: Integrate Sky

Big Sky 4:04 Annie Lennox
Down To Earth 5:59 Peter Gabriel
Breathe 4:12 Blue Stone
Water Down the Ganges 7:10 Prem Joshua & Manish Vyas
Freedom 2:50 Tyrone Wells
Nothing But the Water (II) 5:17 Grace Potter & The Nocturnals
I’m Alive (Life Sounds Like) 3:52 Michael Franti & Spearhead
Go2006 Mix 4:23 Moby
Breathe 4:17 Telepopmusik
Dust in the Wind 3:30 Daughter Darling
Feel It All – Band Jam 3:50 KT Tunstall
Child Come Home Foxtrot Delta 2 3:29 Jamie Catto
Jai Radha Madhav 6:27 Deva Premal

Thursday, Apr 7, 2016, 840am ~ Breath: Integrate Sky

** sadly cancelled due to rain **

WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT NIA?

For more information about Nia and this rich system of training and learning? Everything Nia is at http://www.nianow.com…
If you’re traveling or moving, you can find a teacher or classes wherever you’re going.
Interested in teaching or deepening your practice? Check out the Nia White Belt Training. They are offered all around the world so you can find one near you or where you may want to go!

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Art in Action is a weekly post: a simple, practical guide to applying the ideas and principles in the Focus Pocus posts to your body and life. As always, I love to hear from you about how you use them and how you translate the ideas into action.

A year ago, a favorite yoga teacher turned me on to the teachings of yoga master and anatomist, Leslie Kaminoff. One of the most profoundly helpful things I learned from Kaminoff’s excellent book, Yoga Anatomy, is his definition of breathing.

We tend to think of breathing as something we do: pull air into our lungs and push it out. Actually, suggests Kaminoff, what is actually happening the two interior spaces of the abdominal and thoracic cavities change shape to allow breath to move.

Kaminoff describes the abdominal cavity as a water balloon that can change shape but not volume and the thoracic cavity as an accordion that changes both shape and volume. The two cavities are connected by the dome of the diaphragm.

Experiment with this now: take a deep breath and notice how your abdomen and ribs move. Now breathe again but this time squeeze your belly muscles in and see how that changes the ability of the cavities to change shape.

Effective or ineffective breath, then, comes down to the ability to change the shape of the body’s cavities.

And in fact, you aren’t actually breathing! Kaminoff writes:

It is important to note that in spite of how it feels when you inhale, you do not actually pull air into the body. On the contrary, air is pushed into the body by the atmospheric pressure (14.7 pounds per square inch or 1.03 kg/cm2) that always surrounds you. This means that the actual force that gets air into the lungs is outside of the body. The energy expended in breathing produces a shape change that lowers the pressure in the chest cavity and permits the air to be pushed into the body by the weight of the planet’s atmosphere. In other words, you create the space, and the universe fills it. (Yoga Anatomy by Leslie Kaminoff, illustrations by Amy Matthews, p 6. My emphasis.)

When I understand breathing in this way, I can make choices that enhance the ability of my abdominal and thoracic cavities to change shape and let the air in. There is ease in letting the air breathe me rather than the other way around.

Kaminoff goes on to present this definition of breathing and why it matters:

Breathing, the process of taking air into and expelling it from the lungs, is cause by a three-dimensional shape change in the thoracic and abdominal cavities.

Defining breathing in this manner explains not only what it is but also how it is done. As a thought experiment, try this: Substitute the term shape change for the word breathing whenever discussing the breath. For example, “I just had a really good breath” really means “I just had a really good shape change.” More important, “I’m having difficulty breathing” really means “I’m having trouble changing the shape of my cavities.” This concept has profound therapeutic implications, because it tells us where to start looking for the root causes of breath and postural issues …. (Yoga Anatomy by Leslie Kaminoff, illustrations by Amy Matthews, p 7.)

Whether you are a yogi or not, I highly recommend this book. Even more, I recommend thinking about your breath in terms of shape change and allowing air in.

Breathe deep, everybody. Or rather, let the universe fill you deep!


VIDEOS!

Leslie Kaminoff has a slew of videos about breathing and anatomy. Here are three that are connected to our focus including my very favorite, The World Famous Chair Demo Party Trick:

Breathing as shape change in the abdominal and thoracic cavities

Breath: Water Bottle and Accordion

The World Famous “Chair Demo” Party Trick

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When I was a girl, my favorite gifts were art supplies. (Come to think of it, you can still seriously score with me with anything arty.) In my elementary school years (before the pressures of homework and the absorption of teenage friendships), you could usually find me nestled in my neon green beanbag chair, drawing with crayons and markers and pastels.

In first grade, I had the grooviest art teacher ever. It was the early 70s. She wore clothes with embroidery and fringe, her brown hair swirling and big rings with sparkly crystals that clicked as she worked. She was the first person I’d ever known to eat yogurt. I hung on her every word.

One April, we were painting scenes of spring. I carefully brushed a stroke of blue along the top edge of my paper. Of course. The sky is up there, so that’s where I put it.

ecm pear tree with sky

Pear Tree by my sister, Elizabeth, circa 1972. Subsequently rendered in needlepoint by my mother.

My art teacher saw my picture and took me to the window. She pointed out across the playground and said, Look at the sky. It comes all the way down to the ground. This was an utter revelation to me. First, to look at (and draw) what is rather than what I think in my head. And second, to realize that when I’m walking to school and swinging on the swings and sliding down the slide, I’m in the sky.

Seeing the true nature of the sky — coming all the way down to us on the ground – feels enormously spacious. I feel like I’m swimming, even flying, in the sky. When I see it this way, I breathe deeper. I feel the bigness of the space around me and that big space can hold anything I bring to it. No problem, no joy, no grief, no worry is too big for a sky that reaches all the way to where I stand.

That big space makes breathing easier and my inside more spacious. As I inhale, I can stretch open tight and twisted up parts and receive oxygen to fuel my body and mind. As I exhale, I strengthen my body and integrate that nourishment. I breathe in the sky and make it part of me.

There is power in the integration of external and internal space. As I move in the studio, on my mat and through my day, I play with connecting breath to movement. Inhale and reach up, exhale and fold. Inhale and lengthen, exhale contract. Inhale get the salad bowl out of the high cabinet, exhale put in on the counter. Inhale, open my arms; exhale, hug. Connecting breath to movement keeps me in the body. Being in the body keeps me in the present moment …where life is actually happening.

Move in the sky. Breathe in the sky. Integrate the sky.


PLEASE NOTE!

Tuesday & Thursday classes this week:

This week in my classes we will return to my 2013 routine, Airborne. You can read about it here. Classes on Tuesday and Thursday at 840am at acac downtown will happen on the rooftop deck, Lord willin’ and the rains don’t come. At this moment, Tuesday looks clear and cool; Thursday looks like a possibility of showers. Check the forecast, wear an extra layer and light shoes, and if you’re not sure, call Member Services at 434.984.3800 to see if we’re on to dance in the sky (I’ll make a decision by 730am). My Monday and Wednesday classes will be as usual at 1045am and 11am, respectively at acac Albemarle Square and all other acac classes will be held as usual.

A mini mini series about dance. sit. write. draw. ~~ early bird rate ends April 7!

Here are three mini videos about the dance. sit. write. draw retreat on May 7 (for more go here). You can binge-watch this mini series in under 10 minutes!

Why dance. sit. write. draw.?
Wait, why dance. sit. write. draw., again? (Or, Why Pablo Picasso and I Want You To Come To The Retreat)
Dance. sit. write. draw. (It’s a thing!)

The early bird rate of $80 (for the whole day! Including amazing food!) ends on April 7. Please join us!

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Creativity is everywhere and in everything. Every book, movie, painting, dance, poem, song, play, sculpture is the result of someone’s creative act. Cool, but no big shock since we think of art as creativity. Beyond the expected works of art, everything that’s ever been made — buildings, cars, furniture, city designs, gardens, relationships, people!, everything!! — is a result of someone’s creativity. Wherever you are right now, look around. You are sitting in a sea of creativity.

I’m fascinated by what inspires us, what comes through us, how art of all kinds comes into being. I read about it, teach about it, listen to what all sorts of people have to say about it.* I observe my own creative process as I teach, dance, write, draw, cook, and live.

Even so, creativity is an utter mystery to me.

It’s no coincidence that in English the word inspiration means both to receive breath and to receive an idea. No coincidence either that there are direct etymological connections between the words inspiration and spirit, the breath of the divine. Creativity is the very essence of life.

When we breathe in, we are taking something that is not us, the atmosphere, which allows us to live on Earth. When we receive inspiration, it, too, comes from outside of us to animate our time on the planet. But where does it come from?

One philosophy is that inspiration comes from each other. Kirby Ferguson, the creator of the brilliant short films, Everything’s a Remix, and Austin Kleon, author of Steal Like An Artist, agree that creativity is a process of copying what is already in the world, combining what exists in new ways and then transforming it into something new.

True enough: it’s all been done before. But really, this just begs the question of where the idea to copy this thing, to combine these things in this way come from? Where do we get the vision to transform something into something new? Where does that come from?

Stephen Cope, author of The Great Work of Your Life, teaches that creative outcomes are not our business. All we can do, he says, is to show up to plant the seed. In a 2012 workshop at Kripalu, he said,

Your job is to show up in great shape. Give it your very best. Show up well-nourished and well-rested. Give yourself recovery time. Prepare the soil then let it flow.

Well, thank goodness. Thank goodness I don’t have to sit down at my computer, or my drawing table, or the dance studio and think, Okay, Susan. Create. Go. To be inspired is to be touched by something other than us when we create something. My job is do my best, show up, be open, present, and willing to receive the mysterious gift of whatever comes through.

Elizabeth Gilbert, talks brilliantly about the mysterious entity of creativity in her 2009 TED Talk, Your Elusive Creative Genius. She tells the story of being completely stuck and in despair while writing her book, Eat Pray Love. She says,

I lifted my face up from the manuscript and I directed my comments to an empty corner of the room and I said aloud, “Listen, you, thing. You and I both know that if this book isn’t brilliant that it isn’t entirely my fault. Right? Because you can see I am putting everything I have into this. I don’t have any more than this. So if you want it to be better, you have to show up and do your part of the deal, okay? But if you don’t do that, you know what, the hell with it, I’m going to keep writing anyway because that’s my job. And I would please like the record to reflect today that I showed up for my part of the job.”

When I create a routine or an essay or a drawing, I usually start with a vision or little spark of an idea and steer it, think it, follow it through. For my latest routine, Inspired, it went a little differently. My friend asked me to teach a class at her church. One night, without thinking about it, I sat down and drew an image and wrote a description for the class, Breathing in Spirit. Huh. Okay.

102315 breathing in spirit

As I put together the class, I kept stumbling across music that inspired me or was about breath or inspiration. Halfway through teaching the class, I had the feeling that a routine wanted to come from what I’d begun. So I kept following inspiration: a song my yoga teacher played in class that made me cry, another suggested by a friend, another I’ve wanted to use in a routine but never have. I didn’t even really feel like I was doing it so much as I was letting it be done.

This is the invitation of Inspired and the invitation whether you’re dancing with us or not. The invitation is to show up, do your best, and see what comes through. Pay attention to the times and places and people and circumstances that inspire you. Spend time there.

Prepare the soil and let it flow. Be inspired.


* Want to explore deeper? In addition to the books and talk mentioned above, here are some of my favorite sources of inspiration about our sources of inspiration:

marine mammal breathing art in action 102615

Art in Action is a weekly post: a short, practical guide to applying the ideas and principles in the Focus Pocus posts to your body and life. As always, I love to hear from you about how you use them and how you translate the ideas into action.

“Conscious breath control is a useful tool for achieving a relaxed, clear state of mind.” — Andrew Weil

You could survive three weeks without eating. Three days without drinking. But only three minutes without breathing. Breathing is essential to life of course, but breathing mindfully can enhance mood, increase mental clarity, and improve overall health. Mindful breath is one of the most powerful (and overlooked) tools we have for centering, creating balance, energizing, calming, and relaxing the body, mind and emotions. Breath can even be the path to spiritual enlightenment!

There are centuries-old breathing exercises (pranayama) and plenty of resources on-line* for ways to use your breath for health and well-being. Here are 6 of my favorite super-simple ways to use the breath to feel great.

1. Exhale Relax / Inhale Energize. If you’re feeling revved up and scattered or in pain, focus your attention on lengthening your exhalation. If you’re feeling sleepy and foggy, focus your attention on deepening your inhalation.

2. 4-7-8 Breath. I love this breath for when I’m having trouble sleeping: inhale quietly through your nose for a count of 4, hold your breath for a count of 7 and exhale through your nose for a count of 8 (some experts suggest exhaling audibly through your mouth, but I find this works less well for sleep).

3. 10-Count Focusing Breath. To sharpen focus and attention, use a progressive counted breath. Breathe in for a count of one and out for a count of one. Then breathe in for a count of two and out for a count of two. Keep building up to an inhale for a count of 10 and exhale for a count of 10. If you lose track, go back to one.

4. Ujjayi or Victorious Breath. When practicing yoga or meditation or you need to focus, use a slightly restricted throat (the action you would use to fog a mirror or clean your sunglasses) to create the ocean sound of Ujjayi breath. This breath is both relaxing and energizing and the wave sound has the added benefit of drowning out repetitive thoughts (it even helps me with musical ear worms!). For more, go here.

5. Breathe first. Before speaking or acting (or eating!), take a breath. Take two or three if you feel agitated in any way.

6. Get curious about your breath. We all have breathing habits and breath-holding habits. Notice what happens to your breath when you are:

• Exerting physically (opening a jar, lifting a bag of groceries, shoveling snow, etc.)
• Transitioning from one movement or activity to another
• Concentrating on a mentally challenging task
• Feeling irritated or impatient
• Feeling stressed
• Feeling sad
• Feeling excited

The other way to approach the curiosity exercise is to notice what is happening when you are holding your breath and what is happening when you are breathing deeply and evenly.

However you do it, even a little more attention to your breath is a powerful step toward feeling good — body, mind, emotions and spirit. If you have a favorite breathing exercise, please share it in the comments below or on the Focus Pocus Facebook page!


 

* There are so many excellent resources for information about the power of breathing. Here are a few that I find helpful:
Dr. Andrew Weil
Yoga Journal
Wall Street Journal (believe it or not!)

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