Sunday, December 26, 2010

Balancing Heart and Mind

Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted.
Albert Einstein

Considered one of the greatest minds of modern times, Albert Einstein was a scientist and a physicist who developed the theory of relativity and won the Nobel Prize for his explanation of the photoelectric effect. His curiosity was endless and he considered imagination his most important scientific tool.

Einstein believed in magic. Nature inspired him to probe deeply into the mysteries of life. We tend to think of scientists of being more in their heads than their hearts. Most people would consider artists to work more from their hearts than their heads.

If the mind controls language and things that can be explained by language, and if the heart represents the mystery of life and that which cannot be explained, then true art and science are a blend of both the mind and the heart. Scientists on the cutting edge of science are motivated from their love of science and their quest for a deeper understanding of the unknown. Artists need to have some kind of technique to express their art or their ideas would never be transformed into a physical form for others to experience.

Sometimes we may be more in our heads. We try to figure things out, but if we ignore the feeling that something is not quite right, we will regret it later. Other times we may be more in our heart, but if we ignore our inner voices we also may find that things don't work out because we were unrealistic or impractical in our plans or expectations.

Our fullest yoga practice comes from working with our minds and our hearts. Our minds tell us the details of how to set our foundation, when to breathe, where to place our arms and legs, which pose to practice. Our hearts help us to feel something that goes beyond the pose that cannot be expressed in words. When we experience a sense of wonder and mystery in yoga, it is more complete and powerful. There is always a pulsation in yoga. Our breath reminds us of that with each inhalation and exhalation. So we pulse between our thinking knowledge of a pose, and feeling something new and different every time we practice.

Experiencing the essence of a person, event, action or just about anything doesn't really happen by chance. It is a result of cultivating sensitivity and cooperation with our minds and hearts working together. Einstein didn't just live in his head, he knew the power of the heart. Our minds and hearts feed each other and we totally depend on both for survival. When you feel out of balance, remember in the dance of life the heart and mind are equal partners and together they create harmony and contentment.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Passage from Light to Dark to Light

Something special happens when an alignment of energies comes together in space and time. This year the winter solstice coincided with a full lunar eclipse. The winter solstice marks the shortest day of the year when darkness prevails. And the lunar eclipse happens on a full moon when the moon, Earth and sun all line up - with the Earth in the middle blocking the sun's rays from lighting up the moon. These two events happening together is rare and in fact the last time this occurred was 1638 - over 370 years ago.

If you are lucky enough to view this event, the moon turns into various shades of glowing orange light. Orange is a combination of yellow and red. Red represents the chakra at the base of our spine, our roots and survival. It signifies courage and connects us with our physical body and the power of the earth. Yellow is the color of the solar plexus chakra located at the base of our ribs. It relates to mental clarity, curiosity and optimism. Orange, the color and chakra in between, is related to the sacral chakra in the lower abdomen. Connecting us to our senses, it helps us to be independent and creative. It is our center of reproduction. So the colors of the lunar eclipse are grounding and relate to our physical survival.

These grounding elements are dense and heavy. This is the time to go back to our roots, our survival, our digestion and elimination. What do we need to nourish ourselves? What can we get rid of? Darkness enhances our sense of touch and feeling. It is a time to draw inward and take time for self-reflection. The sun and the moon have opposite energies. When the earth is perfectly aligned between those energies causing an eclipse, the moon takes on a brilliant orange. It passes from light to dark and back to light again. This passage mimics the different stages of our lives as we move from full brilliance into soft darkness and back again.

The foundation of yoga lies in being grounded. It is also about passage through poses, through the cycle of the breath and through times of difficulty and times of ease. Yoga takes us into places of our bodies and minds that are not often visited in our daily routines. When our skeleton is aligned, when our minds and hearts are aligned, and our intention and actions are aligned, magic happens. A beautiful brilliant transformation occurs like a lunar eclipse.

Light and darkness follow each other, both giving their lessons and gifts. If times seem dark, give yourself the luxury to rest and reflect. Move slowly or be still. When light abounds, take action and tap into that energy. Be spontaneous. Let your creativity flourish. We will always go through times of difficulty and times of ease. It is what we do with those times that will determine how our lives evolve. Tapping into the special qualities of both light and darkness will enable us to experience the flow of life with less struggle and greater appreciation for the passage.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Experience of Fullness

Remember turning your face to the sky to feel the freshness of a gentle rain, the warmth of the sun or a cool breeze on your skin? Have you ever felt the beauty of a sunset fill your whole body as you watch the colors slowly change and the sun melt into the horizon?

Walking through the rain or seeing a sunset with our mind on something else or not really paying attention, doesn't give us the full visceral or cognitive experience of the rain or the sunset. But when we commit our focus to the rain or sunset or anything else we want to fully experience. we learn so much more. We feel the wetness of the rain and the changing colors of the sunset at a much deeper level.

Did you see Shaun White on his skateboard in the Vancouver Olympics? His focus was so directed, he became one with his board, the snow and air. Effort was dissolved into raw kinetic energy. His body, mind and spirit seemed to be joined together as he flipped, spun and gyrated above the ground. He was in the zone feeling the fullness of the moment in every pore of his body.

Great actors are fully committed to their character. They must absorb the emotions of that character and let go of their own ego. Tim Robbins became Andy Dufresne in Shawshank Redemption showing us the determination, patience and cunning that was required to secretly dig his way out of prison one spoonful of dirt at a time. The role of the character being portrayed takes on a life of its own so that often times scenes are spontaneously created by the actor in that moment as he lives through his character.

Try practicing yoga with full attention to your breath. Feel the fullness from the inhalation and the exhalation. Let the inhalation fill your chest up to your collarbones and let the exhalation fill your kidneys expanding the back body. Be sensitive enough to let the breath move you. Simplify your thoughts and let your attention go to your foundation and the expansion of your inner body. That's it. Letting go of other details temporarily will teach you things you might otherwise miss.

Experiencing something to its fullest doesn't really happen by chance. It is a result of cultivating sensitivity with deep focus. It requires an openness to learning and expanding your boundaries. We need to be willing to let go of some control and dismiss distractions. Experiencing fullness requires total absorption in what we are doing, connecting with a bigger energy and being totally present in each moment as it unfolds.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Overcoming Overwhelm

Have you ever seen a flock of seagulls screaming and flying in all directions so that they all appear to be one teaming mass of feathers and sounds? Does your mind ever seem to have this same sense of overwhelm when your "to do" list gets out of control and your mind is scattered in all directions? How do you create a sense of calm amid this turmoil?

Like some kind of dark force, overwhelm can temporarily paralyze you. It can feel like a pressing weight that is impossible to lift. So what would a superhero like Batman do in this situation? Would he let an oppressive force smother him or would he somehow find the power to break this heavy weight into insignificant pieces?

Of course we know the answer to this question. Letting overwhelm stop and control us is like Batman allowing the Joker and the Penguin to take over Gotham City. Instead he goes deep inside his Batcave, away from distractions, and makes a plan. His steady intention to protect the citizens of Gotham City fuels him to take action.

That first step is typically the hardest. Batman does not have any superpowers. But he uses his intuition and the gifts he knows he has to accomplish the seemingly impossible. We all have gifts and skills. When we acknowledge them and use them with a strong intention, their power becomes magnified. Getting past overwhelm requires taking a step, however small it may be.

Our "to do" list can be like an enemy ready to squash even our most valiant efforts. But if we take time to find our inner stillness, our intention can be the force that will guide and inspire us to action.

Yoga can be overwhelming as well. So many poses, so many details, so much resistance in our bodies and minds. This is the time to sit quietly and set an intention. Be mindful of your foundation that supports every pose. Let each breath quietly guide you. Engage your muscles to tap into the strength you have and let your spirit express itself in a light and expansive way. This is the power of yoga that can dissolve overwhelm.

Overwhelm is part of modern day living. Computers, cell phones, iPods, and the world-wide web give us easy access to an enormous amount of information, choices, products and entertainment. In some ways it brings us out of our true element. Human beings need quiet and rest. We also have many gifts that we can tend to push into the background. So when overwhelm is taking control, turn to your breath, listen to your intuition and take that first step to set your intention in motion.