Twelve Essential Gifts of Yoga for 2020 – December

December's Gift - Peace

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“Go into this week with the attitude that your peace, your health of mind, and your heart mean more than getting everything else done.” S.C. Lourie

At last…. December and time for the final month of 2020’s “Gifts of Gentle Yoga.” This morning as I sat down to write about December’s gift, I found myself avoiding putting fingers to keyboard and struggling to write a single word.  Unsure about how to push myself into action, I felt anything but peaceful.  And this feeling of “anything but peaceful” was all too familiar.

Right here, right now, I thought to myself.   What is going on?  I was feeling tired and anxious and considered just not writing this month’s post. Maybe no one would notice if I just skipped this one.  I thought about the possibility of at least changing the topic. Maybe that would help?

I had planned 12 specific topics and 11 were done.  So, what was in my way? Dragging my feet and my fingers, I felt that familiar “why-do-things-have-to-seem-so-hard-these-days” feeling rising inside.  What is going on? Should I change my original plan? How can I possibly do that?

I thought about the past year.  I struggled with the tiny video I was rewinding in my mind about this blog writing process.  Looking back, January 2020 seemed like it was way more than 11 months ago. It was another lifetime ago in a different reality in a year that would never end.  And yet I wondered where all that time actually went. What happened? How have 334 days possibly slipped by?

I thought about my initial purpose for this blog.  What was I hoping for?  What in the WORLD was I thinking when I decided this?  I considered what I had accomplished by all this pondering and writing month by month and whether any of it had any value.  I wondered about what I or anyone else might have learned from any of this effort. What was the meaning of all that?

I found myself thinking about the future and wondering, “now what will I do for 2021?”    I promised myself I would do these 12 gifts and now I’m soon (hopefully) going to be finished. The back of my mind seemed to be pushing little question marks forward into my awareness. As the ???s kept nudging forward, I kept shoving them to the back.  How could I figure out next year when I couldn’t even get started on this month? What happens next?

I found myself scrolling through emails, poking around online looking for inspiration, shuffling my papers, wondering if I should go grab more coffee, watching the clock, and dreaming of breakfast, or a walk or anything but the work in front of me.  I realized I needed to get myself into a more peaceful place. I wondered how to settle myself down.  I was searching for some peace inside and a place to start. Where am I in this mess?  How can I find some peace with my place in all this?

After a few deep breaths, I decided to stop looking back and looking forward and to be right here right now.  I reminded myself of my favorite Ram Dass quote lately: “Now is now.  Are you going to be here or not?”   Sitting here in my cozy Vermont basement office, having done all I could think of to do to get quiet and centered, (i.e., more breaths, some yoga, vanilla candle burning brightly, soothing fireplace shimmering beside me, Steve Halperin’s “Inner Peace” playing just softly enough in the background, and admittedly, more coffee), I finally began to feel more focused. Suddenly I realized how similar my experience of getting through this “2020 gifts writing” process has been to my overall process of getting through 2020 period.  In both cases, there have been the same many questions and few easily available answers.

  • What is going on? Should I change my original plan? How can I possibly do that?
  • What happened? How have 334 days possibly slipped by?
  • What was the meaning of all that?
  • Now what? What happens next?
  • Where am I? How can I find some peace with my place in all this?

We have almost made it through 2020 and 2020’s “Simple Gifts” are about to get wrapped up and tied with a bow.  I am guessing most of us have lots of unanswered questions.  My only certain answer for now is that we each need to find peace in our own way as we enter into 2021.  There have been lots of jokes and memes about 2020. I wish that I thought that when we turn the calendar page (or arrow over in our calendars) to January, that all would be well.  Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately?) I’m thinking that life is more continuous and complicated than that and the page turn/arrow move likely isn’t going to fix everything. 

I don’t have all the answers to my five questions from this morning, but I am working on this idea of finding peace with my place in all this. I’m sure you have questions for yourself that you have been struggling with.  I always believe that asking ourselves and asking others really thoughtful questions can be more important than giving each other easy answers. I trust we will all continue to work our way through the questions that come our way.  We will find our own answers in the best way we know how and recruit the best resources we can to help us.   I hope that for each of you reading this, that you can finish out 2020 with some positive reflections on the past year, some hope for the future and some peace inside yourself, in the right here, right now.  For now, I offer three simple tools for finding peace inside from people whose wisdom I admire.  The first is a list of some of the music that I use in yoga class which always settles me into a more peaceful place.  The second is a set of three poems about peace that always touch my heart. And finally, the third is this month’s yoga pose, which is actually a breath practice, Nadi Shodhana.

A Light in Darkness
Photo: Rich Bokan

Suggestions for peaceful yoga music (to create a peaceful space wherever you are)

 I am pretty sure a quick search of your favorite music service will help you find these peace-bringing pieces I have placed in my yoga class play lists.  Fair warning: I love piano music so there is a fair amount of peaceful piano music in this list.

  • Beach Walking by Joefish
  • Sweet Dreams by Carolyn Southworth
  • Grateful by David Tolk
  • I by Benn Jordan
  • Go Gently by Suzanne Ciani
  • Sarvesham Mantra by Miten and Premal and Miten
  • Green Mountain Meadows by Denise Young
  • Church of Trees by Liz Story
  • Native America Flute Music 80 Minutes by Massage Tribe
  • The Ultimate Most Relaxing New Age Music in the Universe (various artists) by New Age (herein lies the Stephen Halerpin)
  • Palchelbel for the Piano by Laura Sullivan
  • Vandita Chants by Vandita Kat Marchesiello
  • Hallelujah (instrumental piano) by Leonard Cohen
  • 108 Sacred Names of Mother Divine: Sacred Chants of Devi, Craig Pruess and Ananda
Peaceful Forest Path

Three Poems About Peace

Thoughts about Peace
by S.C. Lourie@butterflies and pebbles

Go into this week with the attitude that
your peace, your health of mind, and your heart
mean more than getting everything else done.
That your smile matters. That feeling rested matters.
That holding the hand of your loved ones matters.
So pause lots.
Function at a pace that doesn’t pull you apart.
Honour the things that make you feel good inside,
the things that make you feel alive.
Give time to those things this week.
Make time the gift it is,
by giving it to what really matters to you.

Flying Seagulls
Photo: Ellen T.

(Note: The poem below written just after 9/11, still speaks beautifully to me today. I looked up the word “armistice,” to make sure I had its accurate meaning: “an agreement made by opposing sides in war to stop fighting for a certain time; a truce.”   It’s a word that works well for me these days both in terms of wars I am tempted to fight with people who disagree with me about politics as well as the wars I sometimes fight inside myself. If we can’t get all the way to peace, maybe “armistice” seems like a good start?)

Wage Peace
by Judith Hill

Wage peace with your breath.

Breathe in firemen and rubble, breathe out whole buildings and flocks of red wing blackbirds.
Breathe in terrorists and breathe out sleeping children and freshly mown lawns.

Breathe in confusion and breathe out maple trees. Breathe in the fallen and breathe out lifelong friendships intact.

Wage peace with your listening: hearing sirens, pray loud. Remember your tools: flower seeds, clothes pins, clean rivers.

Make soup. Play music. Memorize the words for thank you in three languages. Learn to knit and make a hat.

Think of chaos as dancing raspberries.
Imagine grief as the out breath of beauty or the gesture of fish.
Swim for the other side.

Wage peace.
Never has the world seemed so fresh and precious. Have a cup of tea and rejoice.
Act as if armistice has already arrived.
Celebrate today.

 

Peace
by Vv Welsh, age 8 1/2

Peace

 Peace
for you
Peace for me
Peace as tall as a mountain
Piling high with love and peace

This Month’s Yoga Pose: Nadi Shodhana (channel-purifying breath)

This month’s pose is actually a yoga breathing technique.  Nadi Shodhana is often used in yoga class, but it works well anytime anywhere when you need to calm your mind.  It is sometimes called channel-purifying breath or alternate nostril breathing.  The effects of nadi shodhana are: (1) calms the mind and releases tension; (2) generates introversion; (3) infuses the body with oxygen; (4) clears and releases toxins.

Precautions: (healthline.com) Practicing alternate nostril breath is safe for most people. Talk to your doctor before starting the practice if you have a medical condition such as asthma, COPD, or any other lung or heart concern. If you feel any adverse effects (i.e.,) shortness of breath, while doing the breathing technique, you should stop the practice immediately. This includes feeling lightheaded, dizzy, or nauseous. If you find the breathing is bringing up feelings of agitation or that it triggers any mental or physical symptoms, you should stop the practice.”   

How to do Nadi Shodhana Breath:   

  1. Sit comfortably on the floor or in a chair, your spine long and your abdomen relaxed.
  2. Find the position for your right hand and fingers. You can either simply open and close each nostril using the thumb and forefinger or you can come into a more traditional Vishnu mudra (hand position).  For Vishnu mudra (which I think is a lovely way to practice), open your hand and lightly draw the ring finger and middle finger in toward your palm.   Holding these two fingers toward the palm, you can use the thumb to close one nostril and then alternately use the ring finger to close the other nostril.  Bring this hand up to your nose and rest the other hand on your lap.
  3. Close your right nostril with your thumb. Inhale slowly through your left nostril. 
  4. At the end of this inhale, use your ring finger to close your left nostril as you gently let go of the thumb hold on the right nostril and exhale through the right nostril.
  5. Keeping the left nostril closed, inhale through the right nostril. Then closing your right nostril with your thumb and letting go of the left nostril, exhale through the left nostril. This completes one round.
  6. Continue this pattern for several rounds, gradually slowing the breath down and noticing your relaxation, ending with an exhale through the left nostril. Rest both hands in your lap and notice Nadi Shodhana’s calming effect.
Beautiful Sunset Colors
Photo: Ellen T.
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