Twelve Essential Gifts of Gentle Yoga for 2020 – May

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"Stress is caused by being 'here', but wanting to be 'there'." Eckhart Tolle

May’s Gift: Present Moment Awareness

This morning I sat down to work on my blog for May with a deep awareness of the usual heavy heart I have been carrying around lately. I am guessing I am not alone in this feeling as we all struggle to make our way through the day with our own versions of pandemic-induced problems. For those of us with the luxury of staying home and isolating, each day seems to require a new effort to move toward optimism and away from sadness, depression, worry and frustration. For those of us without the luxury of being homebound, who are out in the world working and struggling to keep body and soul together each in our own way, the feelings are probably even more challenging. Wherever we are, nothing seems normal, right or very manageable. Checking out my proposed list of blog topics for the year, I had mixed feelings when I realized the May gift was to be “present moment awareness.” I felt relieved to see this topic on my list because I’ve used it so often in yoga classes, with clients in therapy, and for myself in daily living that it seemed like a familiar old friend. Then I realized that most of my present moments lately haven’t felt that great and so with an “ugh” in my mind and a sigh in my heart, I tried to figure out where to begin.

 

“Breathing in, I calm body and mind. Breathing out I smile.
Dwelling in the present moment, I know this is the only moment.” 
Thich Nhat Hanh

I pulled out my computer and set out to research the idea of “present moment awareness” and this month’s yoga pose, angeli mudra. Surely, I thought, if I just go out there and look around, I’ll bump into a place to start writing. The first thing that came to mind was the quote I often use in class from Thich Nhat Hahn so I typed that onto my blank page. Yes, breathing in and breathing out are good starting points. Taking my own deep breath and diving in, I decided to try to find out more about the author of this quote, a Zen master and peace activist who I knew little about. Reading about him, I was in awe of this man and could not understand how I had managed to not know more about his amazing life. Having lived over forty years in exile from his native Vietnam because of his efforts to end the Vietnam war, in his late eighties after suffering a stroke and unable to speak, he was finally allowed to return to live again in Vietnam. During his lifetime, he established several important Buddhist centers throughout the world; taught at Princeton, Columbia and the Sorbonne; and was a beloved teacher to hundreds of thousands. His teachings, poetry and art are known and loved worldwide. If you want to feel inspired by what one person can do to change the world, click on the link below to read his life story. 
https://plumvillage.org/about/thich-nhat-hanh/biography/

Beginning my work on this blog as I often do, I looked at the field of positive psychology and found an interesting article called “How to Live in the Present Moment: 35 Exercises and Tools” by Courtney E. Ackerman, M.Sc. on the website, www.positivepsychology.com
Ackerman offered some great suggestions and resources for present moment awareness and I bookmarked this to come back to at some point. Check out the link to read this excellent article: https://positivepsychology.com/present-moment/
As often happens in this kind of Internet search, as luck would have it, the author led me directly to a talk by my new-found inspiration, Thich Nhat Hanh. Perfect. The video was about present moment awareness…the very topic for my yoga class theme where I had used his quote (the one posted just above). “Breathing in I calm body and mind. Breathing out I smile. Dwelling in the present moment, I know this is the only moment.” I certainly do love that quote and from the first time I heard it, I’ve always found it calmed me so immediately and so sweetly. I clicked on the YouTube video, started to watch and thought to myself, “Wow, this is great, but I really don’t have time to watch this whole thing…It is about an hour long and I have to get this blog written and get on with my day!” After all I did have a walk to do and a face time with my grand-daughter, and Lindsay’s wonderful 4:45 yoga class on zoom. This beautiful monk’s words seemed interesting and important, but his language wasn’t that easy to understand, so I decided I would fast forward the video and see what I could pick up. Moving the little red dot forward on the screen, I listened in a couple of points and realized, that it did all seem pretty interesting. Then I heard him say that we are all running all the time, even in our sleep. And then, “If you don’t know how to stop running, the healing cannot take place.” Ok. Ok, I thought to myself. I will indeed stop running and sit down and go back to the beginning. So, the hour of listening was totally worth the hour. Find yourself an hour and check it out at the link below. I don’t think you will regret it. I’ve typed the short version of my reaction his wonderful talk below. Sometimes, less is more, but in this case, I encourage you to take the time to really listen to these inspiring words at:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N93IvR45D80&t=6s

I can never possibly perfectly explain with proper depth and understanding the beautiful thoughts of this amazing 92-year-old monk whose life is an epic story of suffering and sacrifice and learning and teaching. What I did take away for myself in my own simple way this morning, however, were some lovely ideas which I share with you here. 

  • Stopping is so important. In the Buddhist tradition (in my very simple understanding), samatha (pronounced shamatha) means” to stop. “
  • Our bodies do not stop. They have the habit of running and they run even when we sleep. Our lungs breathe, our heart beats, our blood flows.
  • Our minds do not stop.
  • Our bodies and our minds contain each other. Helping one to stop helps the other to stop.
  • Stopping can help us heal ourselves. It can help more than anything else we might do for us to stop, breathe in, be in the present moment, listen to our bodies, appreciate our bodies, and breathe out with a loving smile.
  • And when we can begin to heal ourselves, we can begin to be a healer for others around us.
  • We can stop and listen to the music of our hearts and our breath.
  • We can STOP when we are sitting, standing, walking or lying down, by remembering that our in-breath isn’t about a fight. Our in-breath is an expression of our arrival. It is a way of saying, “I have arrived, I am home.”

This month’s yoga pose is actually a mudra, angeli mudra. While so many of us are staying home these days, angeli mudra can help us to say, “I have arrived, I am home.”

Angeli Mudra

A mudra is a placing of the hands in a certain way to regulate energy flow and redirect energy to a particular area of the body. Angeli mudra is a greeting used in yoga and it is often used with the word Namaste. Namaste has many definitions, and my favorite is, “the light in me bows to the light in you.” We use angeli mudra often at the beginning and the end of yoga class and it is also used in certain yoga poses, most typically tadasana (mountain pose) and vrksasana (tree pose) as a way of centering oneself in the body. Angeli mudra is a way of aligning our mind, our feelings and our actions by bringing the left and right sides of the body and the mind into the heart center. Angeli can help to open the heart, reduce stress, and calm the mind. We can begin to do angeli mudra, seated, by finding an easy comfortable seat. Bring the palms together in front of the heart, with the palms resting lightly together and the thumbs resting lightly on the sternum. Rather than pressing palms into each other, leave a very slight opening where you can imagine placing an intention or wish for yourself or for the world. You may lower your chin slightly toward the heart and say Namaste. You might also try saying softly to yourself, “I have arrived. I am home.”

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