Monday, October 25, 2010

Connecting with Nature

Sometimes when we are still extraordinary things happen. One day I was sitting quietly in the woods reading over some notes. It was a warm autumn day and I was surrounded by the rich colors of fall. I had carefully chosen a sunlight spot so I could feel the warmth of the sun with the cool fall air. Amid the lush carpet of golden leaves, I could hear the sounds of squirrels and other small animals scurrying around hunting for food.

Taking a break from my work, I looked in the direction of the sounds and there was a beautiful white-tailed doe looking at me with deep curiosity. Her large ears flicked back and forth and she was scrutinizing me to decide if I was safe to be around.

I kept my stillness and continued looking at her with as much admiration as she had trepidation. After a few moments, she decided I was not a threat even with her young fawn cautiously following a short distance behind. For the next fifteen minutes she alternated between delicately nibbling on the nearby leaves and checking me out to make sure nothing had changed.

Watching her with an awareness of the specialness of this moment, I could see the details of her soft brown coat. large, luminous eyes, white underside of her tail, and those amazingly sensitive ears that are key to her survival. It was my stillness that allowed this interaction to happen. Otherwise I would have seen the usual fleeting glance of her face and then tail as she quickly ran to get away from me.

In quiet moments ideas, insights, creativity, solutions to problems and even moments of genius come to us. When we are still, we can be more sensitive and open. Intentional stillness creates an inner strength and calm center.

Nature balances stillness with movement. We can see it in the weather, in animals with their habits, in rivers and oceans and even in the way a bird flies.

In yoga we gather strength with stillness. Hugging our arms and legs inward creates stability and steadiness. From there we have the freedom to move with ease. Stillness and freedom balance each other. Shiva is the strong constancy of stillness. Shakti is the expression of freedom we have with movement. There is freedom in stillness and stillness in freedom. Shiva/Shakti - separate but intertwined. Together they are complete. When we fill up with the breath and create an inner fullness, our movements are balanced and free. Without the calm center and inner stability, our movements can become awkward and difficult.

Connecting with Nature aligns us with the deepest part of ourselves. It is magical and gives us a feeling of expansion and freedom. Nature can be difficult and can test us. But it also can heal us and make us whole. Take time to be still in Nature, to feel her presence and to receive the gifts she has to offer.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Element Air

Air is all around us, but we can't see it. It is always touching us, but we can't reach out and hold it. We know it is there because without it we would die.

When air is moving, we call it wind. Seeing movement in the leaves of trees, spray on ocean waves, clouds drifting across the sky and birds gliding with open wings, gives us the illusion of seeing air. We can feel air as we move through it quickly while running, riding a bicycle or any other sport.

Man has always been intrigued with flying, the act of moving through air above the ground. The first successful vehicle for flight was the hot air balloon. Since then man has invented hang gliders, para gliders, ultra lights and flying wing suits to experience the feeling of freedom in flight.

Who doesn't talk about the weather at least once a day? Weather basically describes the condition of the air relative to time and place. It affects our food supply, our daily activities and what we choose to wear and often how we feel. As much as we try to understand and predict the weather, it still continually surprises us. Air can be as gentle as a soothing breeze or as dangerous as a roaring hurricane.

Humans with air qualities tend to be intellectual, flexible, versatile, social, and objective. They are good communicators but they can be dreamers, procrastinators, cold and detached.

We can feel air as we bring it inside our bodies as our breath. This creates energy and is vital to life. This energy is also called chi or prana. Air is light and represents truth.

In yoga we lead with our breath. Movements follow the breath. Breathing fully supports our optimal alignment, relaxes our mind and rejuvenates our whole body. There are specific practices called pranayama for breathing. We can lengthen the breath, focus on the inhalation or exhalation, breathe through alternate nostrils and direct the breath or energy from the breath to different parts of our bodies. When we focus completely on our breath, our involuntary and incessant chatter stops and our minds become clear.

Air links everything on earth together. It represents all we cannot see: our soul, spirit, mind and heart. When we inhale we bring in air from the outside and when we exhale we send out air from the inside. Our breath constantly reminds to give and receive equally, that in order to receive we have to let go of something and that the balance of opposites is vital to our lives.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Element Fire

Fire consumes. It can consume like a humming bird sipping nectar from a flower or like a bear ravenously eating as much as he can after the long winter hibernation. A single candle flame gives a feeling of softness, peacefulness and even romance. Inviting people to come together, campfires give warmth and light. Uncontrolled wildfires purge everything in their path with their enormous energy.

Although fire destroys, it also creates the setting for new growth. A forest fire gets rid of excessive undergrowth, adding nutrients to the soil so native species have room and opportunity to grow and flourish. Sometimes we burn items that are associated with painful memories as a way of letting go of the past and making room for new energy and relationships.

Fire transforms. The fire of digestion breaks down food we eat to give us energy and nutrients. Cooked food makes it easier to digest. Burning trash can create energy or pollution.

The ancient legend of the Phoenix rising from the ashes gives us inspiration in hard times. According to the legend the Phoenix is a magical bird that had to renew its life every 500 - 1000 years. It would build its own funeral pyre gathering aromatic herbs, woods, and spices from around the world. Then it would sit on the nest, turn its face toward the heat of the sun and fan its wings to create the fire that would destroy his body. From the ashes a new Phoenix would be born and live another long lifetime. The Phoenix has been honored in many cultures as a symbol of light, rebirth, and immortality.

People with fire qualities are great leaders, passionate, extroverted, adventurous, and enthusiastic. They can also be rebellious, hot-tempered and moody. Fire energy can stimulate or overpower so it should be exercised with some caution.

Manifestations of the fire element beside fire itself are the sun, lava, volcanoes lightning and all forms of light. Looking into the flames of a fire has a hypnotic quality and the surroundings illuminated by those flames have a soft edge that is soothing and enchanting.

Bringing the fire element into our yoga practice gives it strength and helps us to eliminate toxins from our bodies and minds. Twists are a great way to accomplish this as they massage the internal organs and work the abdominal muscles. Several strong breathing practices help to ignite the inner fire and activate more core muscles. When the body is warm, it is safer to stretch our muscles, tendons and ligaments creating more space and length in our bodies. Testing our edges with sensitivity helps to build internal heat. Being passionate about delving deeply into our practice with strong intention can be transformational on many levels.

Fire is never static. It moves continuously like our breath. When your inner light is soft and expansive, it can burn forever. If we let our inner fire rage in anger and negativity, we can burn out quickly. Find the balance of fueling your inner fire with your passion without being consumed with your own needs and desires. Let your light be eternal.