Ajahn Chah learned that it was better to create the right environment for practice than to try to turn people who didn’t want to practice into practitioners. He had a simile. He said: “If you created a nice pasture and cows came in, they would eat the grass. If animals went into the pasture and didn’t eat the grass, then you knew they weren’t cows.” That was his way of saying that if you create a good place for practice, real practitioners will practice. Other types of people won’t practice, and there’s no point in trying to change them.
Have you noticed I have changed my monthly email format and to some extent my teaching method?
Now, my classes are only for those with a willingness to commit, a purpose, and a positive attitude.
Here were the responses I received:
I am working towards improved mobility (which decreases pain and improves range of motion and ease getting through the day). I am working towards being stronger functionally. And most fundamentally, it all starts with breathwork. I am committed to doing the work as I age and it becomes harder to retain. I am committing to daily quality movement of at least an hour with the exception of 1 rest day. I am committing to 10 minutes (to start) a day for 6 days of meditation/breathwork."
I want wants to work on overall strength & flexibility. I'm willing to come to class and work definitely, and possibly do to daily "homework."
I want to increase my flexibility - I want to touch my toes! I'd like to increase my range of motion in my neck & shoulders if that's possible.”
Continue to build on what we have been working on -building joint strength, building strength in weaker points, practicing breath and embodiment. I will continue to make class a priority and will take the lessons I learn in class into my movement during the week. “Bend knees, make a hip crease, juice those oranges!”
My goal is to improve core strength and balance.”
I want to decrease my back pain by improving my posture and ability to breath. I am willing to practice for 10 minutes a day, 5 days a week, outside of attending class weekly” as a starting point and hope to add more time and other additional types of movement and exercise if/when possible.”
I would be willing to commit to trying at least 10 minutes of yoga at home daily, or maybe finding a specific movement or two to commit to doing daily (whichever makes more sense) to build a habit, and then build on it from there.”
I am willing to commit to daily exercise based on the last class we attend to carry the lessons forward. I am thinking about moving the exercycle back inside to facilitate moving the joints better.”
I am asking this because after on month of classes, I am taking a 10 day break for my high school reunion. This means you will not have the luxury of me to direct your practice for a couple of weeks. This means that if you really want what you think you want, you will be responsible for making it happen while I am away.
So, these next couple of weeks are on you. I hope I hear fantastic stories of Sun Salutations or Pull-Aparts and Squats, of 5 minutes dedicated to “6 counts in, 6 counts out” breathing practice. I know you want it yourself and practicing during class break will be how you get it.
What kind of goal(s) do you have right now? I bet they’re outcome-focused:
I do have process goals- really, more so than any outcome goal.
After a couple of years of writing this monthly newsletter, I continue to struggle with it 98% of the time. It ends up hijacking my lunch breaks as the deadline presses closer and closer. I usually feel overwhelmed and frantic, either from too many ideas to put into a cogent essay, or no idea what to write about but I’ve got to come up with something to meet my business commitment.
Many months ago, in an effort to ease the stress, I changed the “start writing” date on my appointment calendar, giving myself an extra week in advance of the deadline. A couple of times that did the trick, and I even finished my writing project early! I thought, okay, got it handled now.
But no, that didn’t consistently get my monthly missive written in time to send on the first of the month. I would slog along, knowing that if I just stuck with it, I would get it done and sent. BUT, by now I also knew that just meant I would go through this icky cycle again and again- the next start writing date with too many or no idea, the weeks of work break slogs and maybe getting it our with a minimum of typos and errors.
Then last month, as I finished, it occurred to me that just like I do almost everything else, on a schedule of a little bit at a time, I could try writing a little bit at a time. Friday, June 7th, I decided I would set aside one lunch break a week to write. That, I thought, would break it up into 4-5 shorter intervals, without hijacking the whole week (or sometimes 2).
It was a great “process goal”. Did it happen? No. Here it is, June 23, 2021, and I am just today beginning to write. I didn’t even get a writing idea until last Friday, with more inspiration from an email I read Sunday, this one from Lisa Lewis PhD, with the post regarding “Process Goals”.
Does this mean give up, that once a week at lunch break didn’t work, that the goal or the idea failed? No. It means identify what hijacked the goal and strategize how to handle that interference when it happens next time (‘cause it will).
This first go around, some of what hijacked me is just too much on my want-to-do list for the time allowed. I managed some of this by goofing off instead. But really, I had a hard time doing just what I am good at with exercise: setting a list and a schedule and sticking to it, let the rest take care of itself. (Remember the movie Shakespeare in Love? Philip Henslowe (Geoffrey Rush) tells Mr. Fennyman (Tom Wilkinson), "Strangely enough, it all turns out well." Fennyman asks, "How?" and Henslowe replies, "I don't know, its a mystery"
Why tell you of my monthly newsletter writing challenge? For the reason that many of you share with me what stopped you from practicing during the pandemic and continues to stop you currently. There is no magic bonk on the head from the wand of a good fairy. We are not just natural or instinctive about making all the right choices. It’s all hard work, trial and error, experimentation and research. It’s not instant gratification that gives that feel good hit every time.
I wrote in July 2020 “After Motivation, Then What?” . In it I specifically outlined my own tools to keep practicing. If you need ideas, go back and read it.
Just a couple of weeks ago, I sent out an email with,
You have to call forth your own ideas about how to take action. Only you know all the intricacies of your 24 hours day, 7 days a week, monthly duties, seasonal happenings. Because only you know what is so valuable to you or not so worthy that you will choose what is a priority or what can be set aside, even temporarily. Others can share their experience and suggestions. Those are the hard work of trial and error, experiment and research for your being. You aren’t another. You are you.
… “Understanding that [clients] are the experts on themselves.
Okay- I don’t know why, but I don’t remember ever being cued to breath with movement until I took an online, prerecorded yoga class by Jason Crandell. I’d been practicing yoga for many years by then. To that point, I’d gathered from my teachers that “breathing practice” aka pranayama, was the next step; that pranayama was advancing one’s yoga. From all the standard yoga texts I was reading, it came to me as complicated.
Pranayama, #4 of 8 rungs (Yoga Sutras 2.49-2.53)
Remember, my motivation in life is to feel better. On simple terms, I am a sensation junkie- when something gives me an overall sense of wellbeing, I will chase it, wanting to know how to keep it.
I tried, really tried, but honestly didn’t experience feeling better from these instructions of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras or other yoga sutras such as in the Bhagavad Gita or the Vijñāna Bhairava Tantra. What really helped was the simple, “Inhale, step back into a lunge. Exhale, downward facing dog” cue an online yoga teacher would make. I would get 45-90 minutes a day of breathing, and then the remaining 15-1/2 hours of my waking hours who knows?
Well, I do know- and I just heard a fantastic name for how I (barely) breath as I live through my days: “No-Haler”. From Dr. Belisa Vranich: “No inhale: no exhale; this breather just "hovers:" sipping in air then barely letting it out. Your body doesn't expand and contract: it barely moves at all. These people tend to brace their bodies and make very little movement at all, saying their breath feels stuck in both directions.”
I could write a long memoir of my maybe lifetime of no-haling. I learned the years my “freeze or faint” response is no-haling. I now know that chronic pain from auto immune disease both became worse and made the no-haling worse. I now know that severe digestion problems that led to edema were also in the vicious cycle of no-haling. Peristalsis is directly and immediately affected by the movement of the guts, which are moved by the diaphragm. Peristalsis is also directly affected by the nervous system- parasympathetic nervous system and sympathetic system tell the body to rest and digest or fight, flight freeze or faint. The movement of the breath informs the nervous system both by nerve signals and by relaxing the muscles around the nerve ganglia or squeezing them.
How about 4 bouts of pneumonia, starting at 11 months old up to 10 years ago at age 55? A peak experience of no-haling.
Oh, and then there’s losing the mobility of my shoulders and my never ending quest to perform even just one (!) correct push up. The shoulder girdle is strengthened and moved by muscles that attach to the ribs. So if those ribs aren’t squeezing and stretching with a range of motion– no-haling creates no moving- the muscles of the shoulder no longer squeeze and stretch which a range of motion or stability. In my case it got so bad for a while I could no longer raise my right arm overhead.
Every single of these are symptoms of no-haling- yet none identified as such. In my own lurking self- knowing, they had to be related with each other, as parts of a whole system that was needing something missing. The one thing I could clue into was that when I did something that forced my body to breath fulling than my subconscious habit, I always felt so much better.
So, the few times I was exposed to some non- impenetrable information about breathing, I gave it my attention.
September of 2016, I knew the answer was breathing in a yoga teacher training with Susan Grote, PT, CYI. She touched on it all- the anatomy, physiology, kinesiology, emotional impacts and outcomes. She ultimately left me with the need, and I mean need, to learn more. I came up short in my quest, sadly.
I was 50 years old when I was in that training. 12 hours of exposure to what I had been waiting for years unfortunately wasn’t going to undo 49 years of breathing patterns. Sigh. I wish it could be that sudden change where I lived happily ever after.
When the gym trainer told me I wasn’t breathing during while I trained and taught me to “exhale with the exertion”, I had my first clue that all that fantastic stuff I had learned in that teacher training wasn’t quite so easy to actualize.
Last year, taking the Pregnancy & Postpartum Corrective Exercise Specialist Certification, I videoed myself breathing for the Breathing Module of the course. Major bummer and what a revelation: my ribs barely moved at all through exhale and inhale! My lungs are inside those ribs- my ribs should be moving for the inflation and moving when the lungs deflate. But they were doing neither. Well, no wonder I feel stuck, breathing, moving and digesting.
But, through that course I finally had at least clear instructions for practices I could undertake to exercise the reparatory muscles and postural muscles needed to improve how I feel. I also came to understand muscular and postural tendencies I have that are interfering with good breathing mechanics. Turns out the oft-given cue “squeeze the glutes” is a not universally applicable.
I’d heard of James Nestor and his new book Breath, the New Science of a Lost Art through Anatomy Trains. I deeply respect the Anatomy Trains team, so I checked out the audiobook from the King County Library. I was hooked immediately:
"It started several years ago, I was eating right and exercising but kept having chronic respiratory problems — bronchitis — which was turning into mild pneumonia year after year. My doctor suggested a breathing class.”
It was one of those audiobooks I almost couldn’t turn off. I identified with the chronic respiratory and digestive issues and I recognized many of the chronic causes. Most of all, the 6 key take-aways he arrived at were familiar and completely feasible.
When it was done, I went looking for podcasters who had interviewed James Nestor. Right off the bat, I discovered the Take a Deep Breath podcast and channel. I’ve become an instant and several times a day user of this guy’s guided breathing videos. Mike Maher, the creator is putting out there for free stuff that will change your physical and mental health. This one is my favorite: Deep Breathing Exercise for Beginners | TAKE A DEEP BREATH. Completely simple, one hour of breathing, no voice, no music. I use it because I don’t breath when I eat, I don’t breath when I use the computer, I don’t breath when I’m busy thinking!
It turns out there are numerous non- yogi, non- Buddhist travelers on the journey into breathing, or what James Nestor calls “pulmonauts”. I had no idea! This circles us back to Belisa Vranich’s book Breath. I listened to this next simply because I heard her interviewed and the audiobook was available. This was the first practical, no-frills, how to instruction I have learned of that is readily accessible, free to anyone. Come on, the library has it! She lays out step by step, easy to follow simple breathing program that inspired me (okay, that is a pun, isn’t it) to really practice little bits every day.
Rock and Roll:
Just out of shear curiosity, I gave this a try. WOW! - I got THE SENSATION of a full diaphragm extension on the inhale!!! Not just once, either, but a majority of the time! Now, this has been a sensation I’ve been chasing for years. Years of yoga, years of gym, years of…. And now I can make it happen!
This is something I can do as I write this, following along with Mike Maher’s YouTube video of breathing. The “Rock and Roll” is do-able as I walk, as I lay in bed, on and on.
Chasing a feeling - not always a great thing to do- but in this circumstance works to my benefit. It’s so good that I can choose to spend my afternoon break laying down on the “recovery couch” in the locker room with the Interval Timer set to 6 second intervals for 10 minutes. Let’s see, sit at this computer, knowing that my breathing will become very shallow, to the “no-haling” point and I will feel drained after break, OR take 10 minutes to practice complete breathing and feel energized and calm? HMM. That’s a tough one. There’s so much I want to get done every day. Screw it, breathing feels better, work never ends. The to-do list can wait.
But I’ve written about the whys, hows and the skills of regular practice. You can link back to it for a refresher.
I will end with did you ever notice or think on why I named my teaching practice “Aspiration Community Yoga”? That Aspire part was just as key to the name as Community. “From Middle English aspiren, from Old French aspirer, from Latin aspirare (“breathe on; approach; desire”) -Wiktionary.org
Sometimes a change in your life sends out ripples in unexpected directions. I do hope that this will be your experience with Breathe. Maybe: just maybe: you'll assimilate this information and be inspired to help your loved ones and talk to them about their breath, their lungs: their breathing muscles. I'll finish this book the same way I bring to a close Recovery Breath Meditation: by asking you to "bring a small smile to your face and let it flow through your entire body. This is a smile of gratitude: giving thanks for everything that you are and everything that you have: for all the love that is around you and all the love that is within you But most of all, giving thanks to yourself for having made the time to take care of your body: your mind, and your soar. " - Belisa Vranich, Breath