When we meditate we approach the true nature of what it means to be human. Our true nature is to become one with our most compassionate Self. Meditation is a science of intuition that leads the ego to compassionate expressions that serve the common welfare.
Originally published here on JillianPransky.com
It was in Autumn 2000, and it wasn’t a typical day.
I was coming home from Maryland after helping to clear out the belongings of my beloved sister-in-law who had just passed away from cancer a few months before.
On the highway, suddenly my arms started to shake, my vision blurred and my breathing grew shallow and fast. I remember feeling tingly all over and thinking that I was going to pass out. Thankfully, I wasn’t at the wheel; my then boyfriend pulled off at the nearest exit and took me straight to the ER.
Convinced I was having a heart attack or facing something equally grave, I was shocked when my vitals came back normal. The ER staff told me that physically, I was fine. I was having a panic attack.
Wait. What? Me? No!
I remember questioning the doctor: How could I be having a panic attack? I am yoga teacher.
A panic attack made no sense. Plus, heart disease runs in my family. A heart attack made much more sense.
Not only that, but I figured I had the wrong personality for an anxiety disorder. I didn’t feel particularly fragile or vulnerable. I was naturally strong and optimistic, and I had so much drive to go after my goals. I never thought of myself as anxious, nervous, or depressed.
Yet I came to learn that inside, I held buried feelings that came from growing up with a chronically ill and volatile father. I just was not aware of how deeply I was holding onto things…until I had the panic attack. What seemed to have happened, was that the trauma of losing my sister-in-law, who was around my age and a lot like me, was a trigger event for facing the vulnerability that I’d been suppressing for so long.
It is very possible, that when a major event, a transition, or an unexpected incident triggers a big shift in perspective, feelings we have buried for years can rise up, seemingly out of nowhere.
In the months following my first panic attack, I remember days of debilitating fears. I was afraid to ride the subway, afraid to fly in a plane. Things I used to do regularly, without ever thinking twice about them, now seemed threatening. I had this feeling, as if I were forever running away from danger.
I remember sitting in my apartment one day, not sure I could actually leave to go to work, and it was in this moment that things shifted. I became more afraid that I would not get my life back than I was afraid of the anxiety. I remember rolling out my yoga mat and returning to my practice. From that point on I dedicated myself to learning how to adapt yoga and meditation practices to help return me to feelings of grounded-ness and presence, and I acquired new tools to cope with acute and low-lying anxiety.
In the end, the panic attack was a gift, because it revealed all the ways I had felt out of control historically. This exploration would eventually become the basis for my book Deep Listening: A Healing Practice to Calm Your Body, Clear Your Mind, and Open Your Heart.
A foundational step for me was learning not to analyze my anxiety or try talking myself out of it. Instead I focused on literally supporting and calming my body. I practiced feeling myself on the earth, noticing my surroundings, and deepening my breath. All of this allowed me to look at the anxiety more objectively. I learned that it wasn’t – ”I am anxious” or “I am afraid.” But rather, it was “I’m having the experience of feeling afraid.” Knowing this let me realize that the anxiety wasn’t going to kill me. This allowed me to expand back out into the world, even when I felt shaky.
Through my travels of sharing yoga with hundreds of people from all over the world each year, what I’ve learned is that most of us suffer from low-lying or acute anxiety and don’t know why it arises. Or, we feel stressed and overwhelmed much of the time. Most of us carry around powerful emotional narratives – the “stories” we tell ourselves that keep triggering our feelings of anxiety. And, most of us don’t yet know how to change the habits that keep us stuck in the “story telling” loop that keeps us feeling stressed and anxious.
Over the past 25 years, the more I’ve learned about how our bodies work, how our minds work, and how stress is at the root of much of our fatigue, burnout, anxiety, addiction, and illness, the more passionate I’ve grown in developing and offering therapeutic yoga programming.
But the truth is, stress is not really the problem. The problem is that we need to respond differently – not only to stress but also to anything that makes us uncomfortable. This is at the heart of my practice and teachings – learning how to respond differently to stress and challenges in the day-to-day moments of our lives…how to live our yoga off the mat.
This year, I am so grateful to have several opportunities to share practices and tools for those living with chronic stress, anxiety and, or depression. I will have 4 free online practices with Yoga Journal and we are launching a new course Restorative 2.0: Short, Simple Practice To Stay Calm On The Mat (and in the Moment), I am also so excited to be creating a Yoga For Anxiety course with Yoga Anytime.
If you are looking for an in-person program, in addition to my annual sumer retreats at Omega and Kripalu, I am also presenting at Kripalu’s Narrative Healing Conference June 30- July 5 and at Omega’s New Program: Healing Depression through Connection September 13-15.
Mindful Magazine will publish a story about my work in the May / June Issue and also feature my Soft Belly Breathing Meditation, free at Mindful.org.
Lastly, I am working on creating some bit-sized video practices for you, to be offered on my social media platforms this summer. My wish is that you, or someone you know, will benefit from using these very simple, potent, holistic and practical tools to live a life that can be more grounded, present and open – with whatever challenges arise daily in your lives.
May we remember that there is a ground underneath us, holding us up.
May we allow ourselves to land on it.
May we remember that the breath is always there for us, simply waiting for more room to expand with in us.
May we allow it to flow freely through us.
May we remember that we can come back to land and expand, over and over again.
And May You enjoy these offerings and explorations on the topic of anxiety…
Explore Alternative Anxiety Therapies in Chronogram Magazine
Deep and Deeper
Mark Nepo & Jillian Pransky on SHINE ON! Kacey’s Health & Happiness Show
A Supple Psoas Yoga Sequence
A Free one-hour class mixing slow flow & restoratives to ease stress and anxiety.
by John Tarrant / Harper Collins, NY; 1991 / tarrantworks.com
The Wildness Inside and the Creatures to be Found There
The Primeval Place
The interior life is a place of the wild — uncivilized and unpredictable, giving us fevers, symptoms, and moments of impossible beauty. Yet within the appearances of chaos are both a richness and a deep level of orderliness. Like a national park, the interior life doesn’t do anything – it is a treasure house of life. It can’t be strip-mined for our conscious purposes. The only request it makes of us is that we love it; and in return, it responds to our attention. To learn to attend well is to discover our place in the natural order: it brings an element of consistency and harmony to our lives and gives us a story about who we are. To learn to attend is a beginning. To learn to attend more and more deeply is the path itself.
For aboriginal people, a wilderness is not something alien but a kind of blessed garden. As we deepen our attention, we too come to harmonize with existence, learn to see the thin vine that has a tuber underneath, or to follow the direction of birds at sunset to a water hole. Gradually we change. Our listening becomes more acute, we hear background as well as foreground noises, and we are not longer surprised by the animals – the fears and longing of our inner life – and do not complain that someone else has caused their rough ways. When our attention if offered freely, the inner life in return becomes a friend to comfort and sustain us. Gradually, with our offered attention, we connect with the source of which we came – we become aboriginal to ourselves, discovering how much we love our own inwardness.
The Transparence of Spirit
Sometimes we want to live inside the source itself, and bend towards it like a heliotrope to changing light. To take this path, the whole direction, is to face toward spirit. We take up such a way for many reasons – for health, to live in goodness, to answer our great questions – but there is an element of unreason too, for we fall in love with spirit. Sprit is the center of life, the light out of which we were born, with eyes still reflecting the vastness, and the light toward which our eyes turn when our breath goes out and does not come in again.
The great inner traditions, from Paleolithic shamanism to monastic Christianity, have brought us many disciplines to cultivate our link with spirit. Such work involves meditation, prayer, and the delicious process of letting go – everything we thought important drops away when the blaze and stillness at the center fills the view.
A 5-Minute Relaxing Yoga Practice
This short sequence works the body and rests the mind in just five minutes.
PIOTR REDLINSKI FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES
WHAT YOU NEED
You don’t need anything but yourself. If you have a yoga mat, that’s great but not necessary. A towel works, too, or you can just sit on the floor. Find a comfortable spot where you can be alone and uninterrupted for only five minutes. Depending on how your body feels, you may want to use a yoga block, blanket or meditation cushion to place underneath your body to support your body in a comfortable seated position.
You can also take this same yoga and mindfulness practice outside for a change of scenery and influx of nature. Experiencing the vibrant colors, sounds and feel of the outdoors during your yoga practice can provide a positive energy boost.
START WITH SOME MINDFULNESS
Let’s start with your breath. This is a great way to slow down, become present in the moment and connect with yourself:
- While sitting, allow your shoulders to relax.
- Extend your tailbone down and contract your stomach, which will help to straighten your back and lengthen your back from the top of your head.
- Inhale for six seconds while pushing your stomach away from your body.
- Exhale, allowing your stomach to come back to your body.
Do this four times (or more if time permits).
As you go into each yoga posture think about your own self-care, self-respect and a curiosity toward yourself and your moment-to-moment experience. This will put you in the right mindspace for the exercises.
1. Easy Pose (Sukhasana). Begin in a comfortable seated position, legs crossed. Relax your feet and allow your pelvis to be in a neutral position. Think about how you are breathing. Feel the sensations in your body. Sit for a minute and feel the sensations that come with being unrushed, still and internally aware.
2. Neck Roll: Allow your head to fall toward your chest and slowly move your head around in a full circle to the right three times and then to the left three times. Invite the feeling of letting go. Return to the easy pose and lift the crown of your head up.
3. Shoulder Roll: Roll your shoulders in forward circular motions four times and then backwards four times. When you are finished inhale, bringing your hands over head and exhale, placing your hands together at chest level.
4. Tabletop Position (Bharmanasana):Slowly move onto your hands and knees, placing your wrists directly under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Your palms should be on the floor, fingers facing forward with your weight evenly distributed on your palms. Center your head in a neutral position and soften your gaze downward.
5. Cow Pose (Bitilasana): Inhale as you drop your belly toward the mat. Lift your chin and chest and look up toward the ceiling. Pull your shoulders away from your ears.
6. Cat Pose (Marjaryasana): Exhale and pull your stomach toward your spine and round your back toward the ceiling. Gently release the top of your head toward the floor.
7. Repeat Cat-Cow five to 10 times in an unrushed and peaceful rhythm.
8. Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana): Tuck your toes under your feet, press your palms into the floor and lift your hips up, extending your tailbone toward the ceiling. Push your heels back and slightly down toward the mat. They do not have to touch the ground. Allow your head to drop so that your neck is long. Stay here for a few deep breaths.
9. Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana): Slowly move your hands to your feet, and release the muscles in the neck and shoulders. Also release the weight of your head and allow your legs to be straight.
10. Cross your forearms. Place your right hand in front of your left upper arm and weave your left arm behind your right upper arm. Press your heels into the floor and extend your tailbone up to the ceiling. Shake your head back and forth to release your neck. Stay here for at least three breaths before releasing the arms from the crossed position.
11. Mountain Pose (Tadasana): Bend your knees, pull your stomach toward your back and roll your body up.
12. Upward Salute (Urdhva Hastasana): Extend your tailbone down. Inhale here and place your hands together at chest level.
13. Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana): Slowly move your hands to your feet, and release the muscles in the neck and shoulders. Also release the weight of your head and allow your legs to be straight.
14. An additional option is to bend the knees slightly to place one palm flat on the floor or onto a block or anywhere on your leg other than your knee and raise the opposite hand over the head. Try to align the shoulders, slightly twist and look up following the length of the extended arm. Do this on both sides.
15. Child’s Pose (Balasana): Softly come to your knees in a kneeling position. Extend your hands forward in front of you. Allow your torso to relax down and back onto your thighs. Allow space between your knees and the toes to touch. If possible, allow the buttocks to touch the heels of your feet.
We do it mindlessly, over and over, but with a little thought, the process of breathing can be transformative.
PIOTR REDLINSKI FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES
The key components of yoga include postures, meditation, relaxation, and breathing exercises. These features of yoga are not exclusive and do complement each other, but the one that transcends most profoundly is breath. Breath is often thought of as the guide in all areas of yoga. Yoga helps bring more awareness to the breath which has both physical and psychological benefits. When we are stressed, we often will hold or shorten our breathing or breathe in a short, stilted manner. Being able to continue to inhale and exhale calmly and deeply throughout life is a tremendous stress reliever.
Throughout yoga class, teachers will remind you to regulate your breath and this is one of the most transferable skills that you can very quickly take off of the mat and into your everyday life.
Below are a few breathing practices that you can do anywhere, anytime, to get back in touch with your breath. Consider these exercises a stress-relieving pause whenever you need it.
- Sit comfortably with your legs in a comfortable cross-legged position and close your eyes.
- Inhale from the bottom of your belly, then into your chest and imagine filling up your body with breath all the way up to your throat.
- Exhale from your throat, chest and belly.
- Repeat five times.
A HEART-CALMING BREATH
- As long as you don’t have any knee problems, sit in kneeling position with your heels underneath your hips. If you have any knee problems, sit comfortably with your legs crossed.
- Place one hand above your heart and another on your belly (it doesn’t matter which; choose whatever comes naturally).
- Close your eyes and inhale and exhale to the mantra, or repeated saying, of “let” on the inhale and “go” on the exhale.
- Repeat at least five times before placing your hands on your thighs and opening your eyes.
COMBINING BREATH WITH FULL-BODY MOVEMENT
- Begin in a child’s pose with your knees on the ground and your hips on your heels resting on the backs of your feet and your hands outstretched in front of you.
- Tuck your toes and lift your hips up and back into downward facing dog
- Inhale into a plank pose (kumbhakasana), or the top of a push-up, with your shoulders over your wrists and a straight line between your shoulders and your heels.
- Exhale as you lift up and back into downward dog.
- Repeat five to 10 times inhaling into plank and exhaling into downward facing dog.
- Rest in child’s pose.
About 15 years ago, a student I’ll call George showed up for my class one day. He was in his early 60s and had been a runner. But he’d chewed up his knees from years on the pavement, so he started working out at the gym where I was teaching instead. His chiropractor told him he really needed yoga and recommended my classes. George embarked on his yoga journey intent on doing the hardest poses in the most strenuous fashion, all while gritting his teeth or, alternatively, wincing.
When he first starting coming to my classes, I would directly request that he use a prop. But he ignored me. My next strategy was to discretely sneak a block next to his mat. But it would just sit there, lonely and untouched.
“Come on George,” I’d quietly urge, “It will feel a lot better.” “Props are for wimps!” he retorted with a good-natured chuckle. “I’ll loosen up eventually.”
If I knew then what I know now, I would have said, “It’s nice to be optimistic, but flexibility is not just a matter of will, it’s dependent on how you’ve used your body throughout your life, as well as your age, sex, and genetics. If you don’t use props for some of these poses, you might hurt yourself.”
George might sound like someone who doesn’t really understand yoga – self-compassion, nurturing, non-competitiveness, and self-acceptance were not on his radar.But it’s not an isolated perspective.
I once taught a workshop in a studio that had no props, well they had mats. . .but that was it. Super bare bones. I asked the studio owner about it and she said, “Well, I just don’t want my students to become dependent on them.
”Yeesh. Another studio owner once told me that if I just pushed myself harder, I would look like her in a few months. Gasp. . .Choke. . .Breathe. . .Namaste.
Even though I didn’t understand much about the science of flexibility at that time, I knew that I could hurt myself if I overdid it and I wasn’t interested in that.
I’d rather be a little tight but still able to walk in 10 years, thanks.If you have a short torso, long arms and legs, hypermobile joints, and a cheerleading history, you might make it to the cover of Yoga Journal performing any number of gravity-defying, Instagram-ready positions.
For the rest of us, there are props.
Eventually, I figured out how to help George. I started making the whole class get a block, bolster or blankets depending on what we were doing.
Everyone, myself included, would do the same pose with the prop and then I’d say things like, “You may choose to do this without the prop if you like, but I’m going to show it and teach it this way.” Somehow this shift in my teaching gave George the permission he needed to accept props.
I noticed that he began to struggle less and enjoy class more. He stopped gritting his teeth and wincing, he even began staying for Śavasana instead of hustling out with an excuse that he was late for something.
George got a little more flexible, but mostly, he started to find a little more quiet within himself, and a weekly opportunity to take a mini vacation from his strive-drive.
I believe that if yoga teachers can help people feel a bit more comfortable in their own skin, a little less stressed, and give them a chance to take a small reprieve from their self-punishing tendencies, then we’ve done something positive, we’ve given students the space to explore a way of being they may not have access to anywhere else in their lives.
Kristine Kaoverii Weber, MA, C-IAYT, ERYT500, YACEP
Director, Subtle® Health, LLC and Subtle® Yoga Professional Trainings
Yoga techniques can work in the short term as soon as you learn and use them and, research suggests that with regular practice, they begin to create long-term changes in the brain and nervous system, and bias the brain toward a more positive outlook, better mind-body awareness, and a greater capacity to play nicely with others.
One of the models I use to explain how yoga helps (which comes from neuroscientist Dan Siegel’s work) is called the “Window of Tolerance”.
The window explains that the nervous system vacillates between “hyper” and “hypo” arousal. When we can find middle ground or “Optimal Arousal” we think clearly, make good decisions, and basically feel balanced. When we are in a hypo arousal state we become rigid, depressed, cutoff, and/or avoidant. And when we are in a hyper arousal state we feel a sense of chaos – agitation, anxiety and/or anger and rage.
Oh, and BTW, there are many windows in our lives. For some folks a screaming TV or child and getting cut off in traffic poses no distress, but a disorganized flatware drawer might set them off. Clearly, everyone has different levels of tolerance about different things in their lives.
For some people, some of these windows are barely cracked open. The process of widening these windows is the process of developing greater resilience.
How does yoga help?
Well yoga, through its four main “process tools” (ethical engagement, breathing practices, mindful movement, and meditation) offers a comprehensive system to widen those windows of tolerance both cognitively, and via the body/nervous system – or what the neuroscientists call both “Top down” and “Bottom up” self-regulation.
Don’t worry if you miss it, the replay will stay up on my Subtle Yoga with Kristine Weber page. And if you want to really get down into the nuts and bolts of it all, check out my courses: The Science of Slow and The Yoga and Neuroscience Connection.
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The practice of yoga is ever evolving. Here are a few events coming up in the next few weeks and months that you can attend to increase your understanding and and practice!