Archive

Strength

I love summer.

Despite its signature heat and humidity, I love the long, sunny days, all the growth and abundance and berries and watermelon. I also know that especially in the hot height of summer, I need to stay grounded. All that swirling, rising heat energy requires grounding my body, mind and heart. Summer is a time for meditation, siestas, being near water and sitting in the sand.

For me, it’s also a time for connection: gathering fresh fruit and vegetables (either from a garden, a blueberry bush or Misfit Market!), walking in the forest or near water, visiting and entertaining friends and family. (Conversely, I think this is why I winter holiday parties when my energy is quiet and attention is inward totally do not work for me.)

These dual needs for grounding and reaching, are reflected in the very design of the human body: in particular the lower legs and forearms. Take a look at the bone structure of the lower arms and legs:

On the surface of it, the two structures look almost identical: two bones next to each other, one noticeably larger than the other, the ends of which connect to similar structures — a hinge joint at one end and a gliding synovial joint at the other. But while the forms looks the same, their functions are not. The bones of the lower leg are designed to stabilize and ground while the bones of the lower arm are designed to flow and reach out.

The forearms and lower legs are the Bones of Summer.

The two lower leg bones are the tibia and the fibula. The second longest bone in the body, the tibia runs along the inside of the lower leg, attaching to the femur/thigh bone at the top and the ankle at the bottom. Run your fingers along what you think of as your shin bone and you are feeling your tibia. The fibula is another long bone but is narrower and runs parallel to and acts as support of the tibia. In the lower leg, the tibia provides strength and weight-bearing while the fibula provides mobility and range of motion with stability being primary focus of the lower leg.

The forearm bones are the radius, on the thumb-side of the arm, and the ulna that runs down the pinkie side of the arm. Similar to the leg bones, these bones provide both strength and mobility but in the arm, the focus is on mobility. The structure of the joints in the forearm allow the radius to rotate around the ulna — the only two bones in the body that cross each other! — which allows the hand and wrist to rotate more completely than the foot (thank goodness, that wouldn’t go well). This intricate design allows extraordinary flexibility and dexterity for everything from lifting heavy boxes to doing caligraphy.

The Bones of Summer remind us that when energy is moving and things heat up, we need to stay both grounded and fluid. We need to rest in the support of the earth under us but also reach out and connect to the ripening fruit of the season. Both stability and mobility are nourishing to the body in the summer heat and the same is true for the mind and heart.

To skillfully navigate a heated situation — rising anger, an intense disagreement or a hot political conflict —  we need to stay both grounded and fluid. Feel yourself present and rooted as well as open and expansive. It can help me to feel my feet and legs (maybe even feeling my feet or legs with my hands) and also breathe and reach out for connection and perspective. So when I get tangled in a Facebook morass, for example, I can feel my body and breath and also go outside, pet the cat and get a hug from my level-headed husband. This connection to both stability and mobility are what allows relaxation, a settling of stirred-up energy as well as openness to possibility and solution.

Hot summer days can be full of pleasure but they can also stir me up and get me over-stimulated. I have to remind myself to find strength and support as well as openness and connection. Walks in the woods, resting on rocks in a river and picking berries from the vine offer ancient balance to the heat of the season. However you navigate the heat, connect with the Bones of Summer in the lower legs and forearms for a physical sensation of grounded fluidity.

Advertisements

“Tone your core and let the tension go from your face,” says every yoga teacher I’ve ever had whenever they watch me practice.

Mindfulness notices what’s happening. Mindfulness notices what I mean to be doing and what I don’t.

Sense yourself right now.
Where in your body are you holding unnecessarily? That’s tension.
Where are you intentionally engaged? That’s tone.
Both are muscle contractions but they have different sensations and impact the body differently.

Joseph Campbell’s model of the human psyche is a circle with a horizontal line running through it. Everything above the line is conscious, what we know is happening. Tone is above the line. Everything below the line is unconscious. It’s in the dark. Tension is below the line. (In the art above, notice the difference in the definitions of the two words!)

Our practice of mindful movement is an opportunity to get more of our experience above the line.

As we practice noticing, we discern between the sensations of tension and tone. Tension is rooted in habit and anxiety. Tension is a feeling of bracing for some nameless unknown dangerous thing. Tone is rooted in awareness and intention. Tone is a feeling of strength, support and purpose.

Tension and tone happen in our minds and hearts, too. As you move through your days, play with discerning between the tone and tension. See about moving more moments above the line.

WANT TO EXPLORE MORE? A few months ago, we practiced noticing where we grip and inquiring into what it has to teach us. (You can find the post here.)

You are stronger than you think you are.
Each of us.

A friend of mine moved away a couple of years ago. Unexpectedly. Quickly. She was anxious and in (what seems now to be) a misguided attempt to soothe her mind, I suggested that she write down all the things that she was afraid would happen when she and her family moved. I suggested that 3 months later when she looked a the list, that she would see that none of them had happened.

She moved away and three months later, everything on her list had happened. Every. Single. Thing.

I felt like a jerk and a bad friend.

But when I talked to her not long ago, I had this thought: all those things she was afraid of happening (and more, as it turns out), she figured out, she managed, she handled, she lived through. And now, she is stronger.

She did more than she thought she could.

– – – – – – – – – –

We are stronger together.
All of us.

Yesterday, on the anniversary of the death of Heather Heyer and the terrorist attacks in downtown Charlottesville, I went to Heather’s memorial and walked through the downtown mall. While I walked, I listened to a dharma talk by meditation teacher, Tara Brach called Evolving Beyond Unreal Othering.

It was the perfect thing. Given all that’s happened and is happening in our city, it is easy to point fingers. It is easy for me to blame and accuse and say that those people did this to us.

Instead, Tara Brach was reminding me that we really are all in this together. All of us. We are all part of the problems and the solutions. Even and especially people we don’t agree with. I hope you’ll give yourself the gift of listening to her wise words. You can find her talk here.

Charlottesville is grappling with its painful history and the reality of its present. We are (albeit slowly) facing things we don’t want to face and gathering our collective resources to move forward in a healthier way. It seems to me that the only way we can make our way through more than we thought we could, is to do it together.

How do we, as civil rights activist Ruby Sales says, “weave together the “I” with the “We” and the “We” with the “I?” That’s where the real strength lies.

At the opening of a class at Hot Yoga Charlottesville not long ago, my teacher, Julia von Briesen read this by Roshi Joan Halifax:

All too often our so-called strength comes from fear not love; instead of having a strong back, many of us have a defended front shielding a weak spine. In other words, we walk around brittle and defensive, trying to conceal our lack of confidence. If we strengthen our backs, metaphorically speaking, and develop a spine that’s flexible but sturdy, then we can risk having a front that’s soft and open, representing choiceless compassion. The place in your body where these two meet – strong back and soft front – is the brave, tender ground in which to root our caring deeply.

Right away, I recognized the false “strength” of a brittle, defended heart that strikes out in an unskillful attempt to protect.
I do this a lot in traffic.
And while reading the news.
And otherwise being a scared judgy-pants.

Since hearing this quote (and subsequently printing it out and reading it daily), this has been my practice: (1) when I find myself snapping out at someone
(as in “what do you think you’re doing, pulling out in front of me in your enormous SUV with a bumper sticker I don’t like?”
or as in “what kind of heartless, thoughtless, short-sighted politician are you?”
or any other snarky, angryness that pops out of me),
(2) I pause and say a little metta (or loving kindness) for myself
(as in “may I be safe, may I be loved, may I know peace”)
and
(3) I say a little metta / loving kindness for the person I just snarked on
(as in “may you feel safe, may you feel loved, may you know peace”)

When I do this, I feel a little taste of the choiceless compassion that Roshi Joan Halifax tells of. It’s not much, I grant you. But it’s a start.

What can you do today that will strengthen your spine, your core, and soften your heart?

We know this from dancing, but no matter what you’re doing — whether it’s making art or building a house or starting a relationship — a strong foundation allows for spaciousness and possibility above it.

The key is to know what your foundation is and how to make it strong.

It’s true for doing Tree Pose, starting a company, or raising a child.

Ask yourself,
What is my foundation?
What is essential at the base of what I’m doing?
And how can I make that foundation stronger?

The more solid the foundation, the more creative, expressive, and limitless the possibilities in the space above.

This week, we’ll play with the inspiration of two quotes. First, Albert Einstein. What if real intelligence isn’t about what you know or think or do, but rather your ability to shift and change?

Then, from Seth Godin’s book/work of art, It’s Your Turn. Think of a situation – in your body, your life, your community – that is changing and the tension that results. Think of somewhere where there is tension – in a muscle, in a relationship, a company – and the change that inevitably, eventually, results.

Hidden within these quotes is not just the sensation of adaptability but of strength and flexibility.
Are you willing to change?

elements interconnected 041816

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.

Earth.
Water.
Fire.
Air.

The basic elements of life are inextricably interconnected and intertwined. We may look at a boulder and think “Earth” but the stone was born of Water and Fire and Air, too.

Since they are of this planet, our bodies are made of the same stuff — all the ingredients blended inseparably together. The brilliance of this design is that in any moment, we can choose to emphasize whatever element is most needed.

Like a sound system mixing board, we can turn up the volume on whatever track needs to be highlighted. Use sensation and awareness to guide yourself toward healing and well-being.

Earth

Feeling over-excited or anxious? Have you been up in your head solving a problem or analyzing a situation? Feeling spacey or zoned out? Grounding with Earth energy can get your feet back on the ground

  • Drop in. Stand up, lift up onto the balls of your feet and firmly drop your heels down to the floor several times. Relax your hands and jaw and shoulders.
  • Get on the ground. Lie on the floor (or extra bonus points for lying on the actual Earth) and relax into the support (without going to sleep). You can roll and stretch but whatever part is in contact with the floor, let it soften.
  • Focus on the exhale. Extend your exhale as long as you can to relax and integrate the energy.

Water

Feeling hot or irritated? Been in an argument or had someone pushing your buttons all morning? Feeling jagged and sharp? Smoothing out the edges with Water energy can help calm your prickly pointy parts.

  • Move smooth. Roll your neck and shoulders, stand up and circle your hips, rotate your ankles and wrists. Imagine your body flowing especially in places where you tend to hold tension.
  • Get in touch with water. Take a shower or wash your hands. Drink a big glass of water or a cup of tea. Listen to a recording of ocean waves, rain, or (my favorite) water running over rocks.
  • Breathe evenly. Inhale and exhale for the same count (say, 4 in and 4 out) with no pause between them.

Fire

Sleepy or bored or distracted? Feeling lethargic or low energy? Sparking the Fire element can wake you up and get your attention.

  • Shake. Do some jumping jacks or simply shake your hands, feet, shoulders or head. Literally shake yourself up.
  • Fire up the iPod. Listen to your favorite up-tempo energizing music. Two of my favorites are Sandstorm by Darude and Raging Fire by Phillip Phillips. Dancing is optional, unless the song is super good and you can’t help it.
  • Bellows breath. Sit tall and forcefully exhale and inhale using bhastrika breath or bellows breath. Find instructions here.

Air

Feeling tightness in your muscles or your mind? Find yourself in a contracted position on a plane or around an issue? Been slumped in front of the computer or TV for a while? Opening up space with the Air element can release tension and offer a broader perspective.

  • Stretch. Lengthen your body along the bones. Let your whole body find length from feet to spine, from legs to fingers. If you’re on a train or at a meeting, stretch what you can – maybe your hands or sit up taller or imagine yourself in a big open space reaching long in all directions.
  • Look at the sky. On your way to the car, take a moment to look up and see how much space (even on an overcast day) there is all around you.
  • Breathe in. Expand your internal spaciousness by breathing deeply in. Let your ribs expand to the front, sides and back.

* The mind is a powerful tool. If you can’t move due to injury or circumstance, move what you can (e.g., shake out just your right hand if your left hand isn’t available) or imagine yourself moving. Just using your imagination will have almost the same effect!

%d bloggers like this: