Open for experience with compassionate abiding

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When my dogdaugher Rory realizes we're getting ready to leave the apartment without her, she runs to the kitchen and eats her feelings. All of them. An entire bowl of kibble. Gone in 60 seconds. She hates it when our pack parts ways. How do you handle unwanted feelings? Do you devour them too? Or drown them? Maybe you deny them altogether? Pema Chödrön offers us another option, compassionate abiding.

Pema Chödrön: "How can we start exactly where we are, with all our entanglements, and still develop unconditional acceptance of ourselves [maitri] instead of guilt and depression? One of the most helpful methods I’ve found is the practice of compassionate abiding. This is a way of bringing warmth to unwanted feelings. It is a direct method for embracing our experience rather than rejecting it. So the next time you realize that you’re hooked—that you’re stuck, finding yourself tightening, spiraling into blaming, acting out, obsessing—you could experiment with this approach.

"Contacting the experience of being hooked, you breathe in, allowing the feeling completely and opening to it. The in-breath can be deep and relaxed—anything that helps you to let the feeling be there, anything that helps you not push it away. Then, still abiding with the urge and edginess of feelings such as craving or aggression, as you breathe out you relax and give the feeling space. The outbreath is not a way of sending the discomfort away but a way of ventilating it, of loosening the tension around it, of becoming aware of the space in which the discomfort is occurring.

"This practice helps us to develop maitri because we willingly touch parts of ourselves that we’re not proud of. We touch feelings that we think we shouldn’t be having—feelings of failure, of shame, of murderous rage; all those politically incorrect feelings like racial prejudice, disdain for people we consider ugly or inferior, sexual addiction, and phobias. We contact whatever we’re experiencing and go beyond liking or disliking by breathing in and opening. Then we breathe out and relax. We continue that for a few moments or for as long as we wish, synchronizing it with the breath. This process has a leaning-in quality. Breathing in and leaning in are very much the same. We touch the experience, feeling it in the body if that helps, and we breathe it in.

"In the process of doing this, we are transmuting hard, reactive, rejecting energy into basic warmth and openness. It sounds dramatic, but really it’s very simple and direct. All we are doing is breathing in and experiencing what’s happening, then breathing out as we continue to experience what’s happening. It’s a way of working with our negativity that appreciates that the negative energy per se is not the problem. Confusion only begins when we can’t abide with the intensity of the energy and therefore spin off. Staying present with our own energy allows it to keep flowing and move on. Abiding with our own energy is the ultimate nonaggression, the ultimate maitri."

XOm, 
Jonathan

Excerpted from Unlimited Friendliness: Three steps to genuine compassion by Pema Chödrön

Savasana saved my life

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Not long ago, Ariel and I were in the car on our way to pick up the skeleton man from Washington Heights when she asked if I’d like to write an article for the Tune Up Fitness blog during “Relaxation Month.”

Without hesitating, I answered, “Yes, Savasana saved my life.”

Savasana is the “going home” pose. It’s an opportunity to practice relaxing into who you are. Looking back now, my pre-Savasana past kinda feels like an out-of-body dream.

"But it wasn't a dream," as one of my very first teachers, Dorothy Gale, says. "It was a place. And you and you and you...and you were there. I remember some of it wasn't very nice, but most of it was beautiful--but just the same all I kept saying to everybody was ‘I want to go home,’ and they sent me home! Toto, we're home! Home. And this is my room, and you're all here and I'm not going to leave here ever, ever again. Because I love you all. And... Oh Auntie Em! There's no place like home!”

XOm,
Jonathan

How Savasana Saved My Life: Relaxation Techniques to Overcome Pain

 

 Painting: Deitado by Feikehara Yantra

Love, Jonathan

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On the plane home last night, the sweet person next to me was watching Love, Simon. I couldn’t remember how it ends, so I occasionally glanced at her screen to find out who Blue was. Luckily I was also looking when Simon comes out to his mom. As I read their lips, my neighbor and I wiped our eyes, and I flashed back to a scene from my life, the time I almost came out to my mom.

It was late at night. Mom and I were sitting in the car in our driveway. In the pause between summoning my courage and the words leaving my body, she shared something personal and important to her. It was her night to speak. My time would come again soon.

Mom passed away before I got another chance. One of my first thoughts after she died was “now she knows all of me” and I felt a wave of love that almost knocked me over.

Memories are magical and mysterious and embedded with wisdom. I’m constantly amazed by how much more I understand myself when I gently ask my thoughts, “What would you have me learn?” Most of the time, it is forgiveness.

We don’t all get a coming out story like Simon, but there is healing in acknowledging we deserve it. It’s also been helpful for me to imagine the way I prayed it would go. It’s an endless opportunity to embody the experience of my mother’s love again and make it real. Now, when I give Mom and me our moving-picture-perfect moment, she says what Simon’s said:

“I need you to hear this. You are still you, Jonathan. You are still the same son I love…. You get to exhale now, Jonathan. You get to be more you than you have been in a very long time. You deserve everything you want.”

Photo by: Twentieth Century Fox/ Ben Rothstein

Living with spaciousness

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Pop quiz: If the 22 bus to Yoga Tree takes 40 minutes and Relax and Renew®️ training starts at 12:30 p.m., why did I leave the house at 11 a.m.?

Answer: Yutori!

I’ve been practicing yutori for years. But I didn’t know its name until the most recent Office Hours on Pratyahara with Judith and Lizzie Lasater. 

I love how the poet Naomi Shihab Nye describes yutori. After a recent trip to Japan, she remembers, “A girl wrote me a note in Yokohama on the day that I was leaving her school that has come to be the most significant note any student has written me in years. She said, “Well, here in Japan, we have a concept called ‘yutori.’” And it is spaciousness. It’s a kind of living with spaciousness. For example, it’s leaving early enough to get somewhere so that you know you’re going to arrive early, so when you get there, you have time to look around.”

Do yutori too? 

NYC to RLX

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Friends!

I’ve landed safely in San Francisco. I’m out here for the next week with flowers in my hair studying Restorative yoga with two of my favorite people, Judith and Lizzie Lasater. I can’t wait to share with you what I learn.

In the meantime, if you're looking for a late summer book rec, check out the ones Judith suggested we read to prepare for this training. I’ve found in their pages answers to some of the questions I’ve been searching all my life, a few I didn’t even know to ask.

Relax and Renew® Level 2 Reading List

Can I leave you with another thing to read? I promise it's real quick. My friend Jordan just sent it to me, and it's my new favorite quote. Actually, it's more than that. It's why I'm in San Francisco and why I'm writing to you right now.

Pema Chodron: “Times are difficult globally; awakening is no longer a luxury or an ideal. It's becoming critical. We don't need to add more depression, more discouragement, or more anger to what's already here. It's becoming essential that we learn how to relate sanely with difficult times. The earth seems to be beseeching us to connect with joy and discover our innermost essence. This is the best way that we can benefit others.”

I hope you feel it too.

Here for you,
Jonathan

Bikingkindness

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I’ve biked all around NYC (1636 miles at last count) on the saddle of this heavenly creature, Pietr VanMoof. And ever since Sharon Salzberg taught me how to send lovingkindness to my fellow commuters, the distances we travel are also part of my daily spiritual practice.

What’s God got to do with it? For starters, the lovingkindness prayer reminds me to see others (and myself) through eyes of love instead of fear.

May you be happy.

May you be safe.

May you be peaceful.

May you live with ease.

Try it out tomorrow! The proof is in the pedalin’.

 My first set of training wheels

My first set of training wheels

chakRAS QUEEN!

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Started from the bottom, now we're here. Please join me in thanking Kareth for teaching us about the chakras these last few months. Root to crown, each lesson was both practical and precious. I keep referring back to their physical practices, essential oil pairings and playlists. You've gifted us something very special, my friend.
For your easy reference, here are links to the complete series:

The Chakras
1. Root
2. Sacral
3. Solar plexus
4. Heart
5. Throat
6. Third eye
7. Crown

XOm,
Jonathan

The Crown: Your corporal highness

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We've arrived at Sahasrara, the Crown Chakra, pure consciousness. Located at the very top of the skull or perhaps just above, Sahasrara means "thousandfold" and is represented by a thousand-petalled lotus flower signifying the infinite. Here lies our gateway to spirit, the divine, and the unknown. If you look at the chakras as both a ladder of spiritual evolution and a progression of life's phases, the qualities of the crown chakra can often be felt in very old age as we grow closer to death and to liberation. The veil is thin here, and when we are aligned with the energy of the 7th chakra, we touch transcendence and reside comfortably in mystery.

When connecting to the source at Sahasrara, we become a witness of our own awareness. We glimpse the true Self, Purusa, the soul, and are capable of seeing that Self in all, and, like a mirror, all the vastness of existence within the Self. 

"The Self is everywhere.
Bright is the Self. 
Indivisible, untouched by sin, wise,
Immanent and Transcendent. It is he/she
Who holds the cosmos together."

- from the Isha Upanishad


Physical Practice: Great mental stillness is needed to perceive this ultimate state, and this chakra is where meditation is most fully realized. 

Find a comfortable meditation seat. This could be cross-legged sitting up on a pillow or block, or in virasana, on the knees, sitting on a block between the heals. Close your eyes, feel the stability in your pelvis and very gently lift the back of the skull to encourage the spine to lengthen. Let your breath flow in and out with ease for several cycles. Inhale deeply and extend the arms out and up towards the sky, bringing the palms to touch in a prayer shape. Slowly bend the elbows and lower the hands to just above the head as you peel the palms apart but leave the fingertips touching. This is Hakini mudra, usually associated with clarity of mind and Ajna chakra, but in this position, floating above the crown chakra, we use it as a conduit to the divine, connecting matter to spirit. 

Breathe in and out of the space between the palms. See if you can sense the energy circulating there within the emptiness. As you breathe, feel into the space between all the cells in your body, the space between the thoughts and emotions. Enjoy the simple act of breathing and noticing, of letting your awareness rise to the surface, of letting your inner Self emerge. 

Gently let your hands rest on the top of your head, on your crown chakra. Offer your gratitude to the mystery of life and to yourself for traveling so far into the unknown every single day. 

Essential Oils: There are several essential oils that elevate the crown chakra, although the simplicity of Frankincense is the epitome of spirit.

Playlist: https://open.spotify.com/user/kwrath/playlist/1p8NgcNUhOHH7cGizk7adF

Photo by Lizzie Lasater

Stop shodding on yourself

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In her book Simple Steps to Foot Pain Relief: The New Science of Healthy Feet Biomechanist Katy Bowman breaks the great news… many foot problems are a result of disuse. Great news? Yes, because it means we have an opportunity to positively impact our foot-ure by making smarter choices and moving differently today. Consider this... if bunions "run" in your family, don't blame grandma. Maybe part of the problem is in your closet, not your DNA.

Toe pick a healthier shoe, Katy recommends a no-drama five-factor evaluation. Once shod, you want to answer "Yes" to as many of these questions as possible.  

  • Heel: Can I maintain a truly vertical alignment with my weight over my heels?
  • Toe box height: Does the front of the shoe rest on the ground, keeping my toes out of extension?
  • Toe box width: Can I spread my toes comfortably?
  • Upper: Does the shoe stay on my foot without my toes having to grip it?
  • Sole: Does the sole allow the natural movement of my foot, not just my ankle to move?

In summary, the healthiest footwear fits the following cri-toe-ria: 

  • Flat heel
  • Flat toe box
  • Wide toe box
  • Well-attached upper 
  • Thin and flexible sole

Katy maintains a running list of her favorite minimal shoes here, making it super easy for us to choose wisely in the shoe department. I really like my Vivobarefoot shoes and I just purchased a pair of Camper winter boots because IT WON'T STOP SNOWING IN NYC. 

Remember "the right shoe" is only part of the equation. Movement is also medicine. In her book, Katy offers easy exercises (stretches, massages, posture pointers) to help you fix your feet. As Katy says, "The state of your feet right now is simply a reflection of everything you have done up until this moment. Human tissues are dynamic and adapt to the forces that are placed on them. When these forces change, the tissues change to reflect the different habit. This is true whether it's a good habit or a bad one!"
 
XOm,
Jonathan

Photo by Vivobarefoot

This sucks

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For the last few years, encounters with a certain citrus-colored someone always cause me anxiety. It’s led to some positive behavior changes in my life (I almost never watch the news now) and highlighted other potential “development” areas (like when I stick my fingers in my ears, close my eyes, and say “Lalalala”).
 
I’m happy to report I’m making progress. In fact, this past Tuesday morning, when my eyes, like a moth to the flame, glanced at the news screen in the elevator and saw his 5-letter name, I also noticed a sinking feeling in my stomach. However, this time, instead of ignoring it, pushing it down, turning against myself, and possibly derailing my day, a voice inside me said, “This sucks.” That tiny moment of recognition made all the difference, and before I even arrived at my floor, the anxiety had passed. Every time I admit what I’m feeling, anxiety gets its wings and flies away. 

That’s how powerful mindfulness is. Simple awareness of your bodily experience, grounding yourself in the sensations of the moment, can change your day and, dare I say, your life. Two things happen: you understand that thoughts and feelings come and go and that you can choose your response to them.
 
Meditation is a way to practice mindfulness in short, focused bursts. It has both short-term benefits (the slow-to-dissolve residue of relaxation post-sit) and long-term life effects (more resilience, for example).
 
This month, I’m meditating every day with one of my “be here now” heroes, Sharon Salzberg, to get better at living. Join us.
 
XOm,
Jonathan