Note from Tracy: Recent news articles and social media threads inspired me to create and teach a yoga series at Whole Life Yoga called Yoga for Turbulent Times. For those of you not near Seattle, I’ve decided to share the breath practices and meditations from this class as I teach them. I hope you find them useful.
Yoga for Turbulent Times Week 1:
The yoga teachings tell us that we can’t control the world around us. We can, however, control how we react to it. More than that, we can act with active compassion whenever we see suffering in the world around us. Active compassion implies that we take action to reduce the suffering of others. There’s a catch though: We have to do so without joining the suffering. A tall order on the best of days.
On the worst?
Gandhi gives this advice (bold added by yours truly):
We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do.
In other words, the first–and arguably most important–step in changing the world is changing ourselves. The breath and meditation practices below may help.
Bring to mind a quality that would help you create inner balance, regardless of turbulence in the world around you. Give that quality a name. If a word doesn’t come to you, give it a picture, a sensation, a sound, a light. Be open to whatever image, word, or thought your mind provides you. Keep that quality in your awareness as you begin this breath practice.
- Lengthen your inhale and exhale, making them approximately equal.
- After 6 breaths at that lengthened breath, add a 2-second pause after both the inhale and the exhale.
- If the breath in step 2 is easy for you and you’ve practiced pranayama before, lengthen both pauses to a count of 3 or 4.
- Remain at this breath for several minutes. With each inhale, imagine the quality you chose entering your heart. In the pause after inhale, imagine it taking root inside you. With each exhale, offer that quality back to the world. In the pause after exhale, imagine that quality within and around you.
- After several minutes, release the pauses and continue breathing with a lengthened inhale and exhale.
- After several more breaths, return your breath to a normal rhythm. Carry the energy of this breath practice to meditation.
Note: If you notice breathlessness, anxiety, or strain at any time, reduce the lengths of the pauses or go back to the lengthened breath in step 1.
- Sit comfortably, with your spine erect and the crown of your head floating up toward the ceiling. Sitting either in a chair or on the floor is fine, as long as you are physically comfortable.
- Allow your eyes to close, or if this is too challenging, keep your eyes at “half mast” gazing quietly at a place below and in front of you.
- Notice your breath without intentionally trying to change it. First notice the warmth and coolness of the breath as it enters your nostrils. Notice the movement of your rib cage and belly. How does your spine move with each breath? What other sensations can you feel?
- After you feel comfortable and relaxed, bring to mind the quality you chose for the breath practice and ask yourself the following question:
- For the next week, how can I embody the quality I hope most to receive? (For example, if your quality is “peace,” the question would be “How can I embody peace?”)
- Don’t try to audit or evaluate the answers that come to you. You may hear words, see images, feel sensations, or experience emotions. Allow whatever you experience to float across your consciousness.
- If your attention wanders at any time during the meditation (and it will!) simply notice it, then invite your attention back to the sensation of the breath. When you feel ready, ask yourself the question again.
- Continue this meditation for 10 – 15 minutes.
Enjoy and may you find whatever you need amidst turbulent times!
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