Serenity resides beside the seashore beneath the salty breath of the ocean the rhythmic humming of the heavy tide reminds me to breathe deeply The liquid lungs of this sacred planet the dark, watery womb of all life releasing oxygen into the atmosphere while it sways against the weight of the moon The crashing exhale of massive waves chases away all fears of letting go hypnotized by the back and forth of forces far greater than I The awe-inspiring grandeur of the undulating sea brings a deep sense of peace I've been holding my breath
the body loves me even when I don't love it this animal spirit inside is fighting tirelessly to keep me alive Intricate networks of blood vessels and veins muscles and sinews and breathing stardust cleverly conspiring to keep me safe I poison its efforts with casual harm cutting and gagging and straining its limits imperfection is not justification for punishment blinded to the enormous, exhausting efforts of a body trying its very best This quivering creature that cradles my soul only craving compassion and care the bare minimum of reciprocation for non-stop, selfless service offered in a myriad of unnoticed ways I cannot fault it for not following vanity and dangling me just above death to fit in a smaller dress it doesn't understand that desire true love is keeping me healthy The fierce physical innocence of this form continues to create blood and breath and bone to buoy me forward in this life without thanks the precious animal that is also me doesn't deserve such callous disregard The mind and the body are wards of one another it's time my mental faculties begin carrying their own weight in the ways of consistent loving-kindness for this creature doing the best it can
Let It Be
Shedding the crackling layers of thought the busy hum inside that separates us from the splendid simplicity of the moment embracing boredom as a sacred rest Letting go of the desperate clinging the endless search for answers and meaning this life doesn't have to be anything besides exactly what it is as we breathe here now You're doing enough, you are enough whether or not you've made a masterpiece out of every second of your day sip in inner stillness with the stale air All tension comes from the stories we tell our insistence that we should be somewhere else when did it become so scary to nestle into silence to spend hours watching the rain come and go When did I begin to rely on the things outside myself to be a signal for if I'm doing okay, if I'm allowed to be happy hushing my internal guide to subscribe to other influences surrendering my deep knowing for doubt Even my sad days have their own worth it's the struggle to escape them that becomes suffering sitting with myself in the darkness is okay being a friend to this form instead of abandoning her I still don't know if unconditional love can be taught or if it's already there beneath all the noise but if this life is just spent searching and learning what a beautiful experience it will be regardless
Come Back to the Breath
The last week has really shaken me up. I’ve been fortunate enough to have the ability to be able to easily fall asleep and stay asleep my entire life. There have only been a handful of times where this hasn’t been the case. This past week is one of those times. As soon as my brain comes back on line, the normal stillness and sense of ease has been replaced with racing thoughts that send me immediately into a state of panic. It feels too dangerous to fall back asleep. These fear addled thoughts demand my attention.
Somewhere in my half conscious state in the early hours of this morning, a realization struck me. Anxiety feels urgent. It feels like whatever the fear is focusing on is something that needs to be addressed ASAP. The sickening tension in all of my muscles, my short, quick, shallow breaths, these are all things that my mind tells me are a product of impending peril. I have to fix the thoughts to feel better. So I spend countless hours ruminating on unknown eventualities, trying to determine some perfect solution. Agonizing over my inability to do so. Will I feel like this forever?
In the middle of this cycle as I tossed and turned in my bed earlier, a had a glimpse of important insight. These thoughts are not directly causing these physical feelings. No, they are influencing my breath. My erratic breathing is causing these unbearable sensations in my body. I don’t need to fix the thoughts. They can stay exactly as they are, utterly unsolved and unsolvable. All I have to do is consciously come back to my breath. No matter what my mind is telling me, if I can slow down my breathing and extend my exhales, I’m going to feel better.
After just a few short moments of trying this out, I was asleep again, peaceful and safe. One of the most difficult aspects of anxiety for me is being able to convince myself that it’s okay to let it be there. Usually it compounds indefinitely as I try desperately to “fix” whatever it is that is causing my anxiety. But some fears can’t be fixed. Some nights I’m fixated on the fact that I and everyone I love will die one day. There is no mental contortion that I could create to make this okay. My brain begins to panic even more when I can’t come up with a way to eradicate the fear. The important thing is to remind myself that I don’t have to have answers for all of my anxious thoughts. In fact, trying to “fix it” just feeds them.
The breath is where my true power lies. It is the anchor tethering me to the present, the only moment worth living in. Even in the case where I genuinely would benefit from forming an action plan, I can only do that in the present. And I can only do that well from a calm frame of mind. If you’re someone that suffers from severe and chronic anxiety like me, comfort yourself with the knowledge that you don’t have to battle your fearful thoughts. Practice letting them be. Just come back to your breath. The proof that the thoughts themselves are not the problem will become evident when you realize by slowing down and deepening the breath you’ve returned to a calmer state.
Sometimes it’s hard to believe I could ever feel better when my fear seems so big and important. It feels like I can’t breathe because this heavy weight of my (sometimes legitimate) fear is pressing me into the dust. In reality, it’s the opposite. Or I suppose it’s rather a feedback loop. I’m afraid so my breath becomes shallow. My shallow breathing makes my sympathetic nervous system take over, and the cycle continues to intensify. The key is in realizing where my control truly lies. I can’t control my thoughts. I can’t control the external world with all its unknown variables and potential dangers. What I can control, if I choose to do so, is my breath. This is my power to break the cycle of distress.
If your thoughts try to tell you that you shouldn’t calm down because you NEED to be alarmed by these fears and address them, just gently remind yourself that if these fears are truly issues that need to be tended to, you can still do that from a state of calm. In fact, you will be better at coming up with a plan once you’ve settled your body and mind anyway. So just breathe. As long as you’re breathing everything is going to be okay.
Deep Belly Breaths
The hardest part of yoga is letting myself breathe after 7 years of practice it still feels impossible I've heard that meditation can turn toxic if you let yourself spend it ruminating on the negative listening to that hateful little voice inside I don't know how to avoid that sharp pang of self-criticism and still breathe into my belly to find deep, full, relaxed breaths I've spent my whole life disassociating from that area avoiding myself even in the internal mirror of my own self awareness Only on my back can I let myself fully expand and take up space with the help of gravity to hold me and keep venomous thoughts at bay How can I learn to love all of myself when some parts cause me so much pain this undercurrent of overwhelm at the idea of accepting it's something I cannot change
closing your eyes the awareness is flooded by breath alone the soft hiss of air going in, air going out a subtle rustle behind your ribcage reminds you of pulsing life within the peace you find in this silent stillness the soft sense of comfort that resides there is not a separation from the world rather it is our ability to dissolve, to let go and be submerged in the One going inward, is going away it's surrendering the whole idea of self setting aside all the stories that you cling to remembering that they are not real rediscovering what is that peaceful place, that's what's real the softening of body and mind the deep undercurrent of all existence is always there waiting for you to recognize, to rest in
Narrowing Our Focus
If there is one thing I’ve learned from my meditation practice, it is the importance and value of focusing our minds. I’ve gotten to the point where I genuinely don’t think it matters what we decide to focus on. The simple act of focusing itself is what brings us clarity and calm. As someone who is easily distracted, it’s hard not to get caught up on the decision of what to focus on, even during meditation. Should I focus my attention on my breath, my heart space, my connection with the earth, a visualization? There are so many options that it becomes overwhelming. I find myself switching back and fourth a lot of the time, unable to settle on just one.
Until recently, I was under the assumption that breath awareness was one of the simplest forms of meditation. I often get frustrated with myself for having such a hard time with it after so many years. But recently I heard a meditation teacher discuss the challenges of this type of meditation, validating a lot of the recurring thoughts that pop up for me during my practice. For one thing, saying “focus on the breath” isn’t a very clear instruction. The breath is a very complex thing. It is fluid, ever changing, and tied to a lot of difficult emotions.
Another problem with breath awareness is the body image issues that often arise with it. Until hearing this person speak about it, part of me thought I was the only one that struggled with allowing a natural belly breath during a seated meditation. (It’s a little bit easier for me when lying down.) People, especially women, are told to suck in their stomach, to flatten and hide it. Yet now we are expected to allow it to expand fully and breathe deeply into our diaphragm? It’s hard to let go of years of emotional baggage in order to do so. I always get distracted by my feelings of shame and self-judgement while trying to breathe into my belly. Then instead of focusing on the breath, I’m meditating on negative self-talk, which is only harming me.
One thing that I’ve found helpful more recently is to get even more specific with my breath awareness. There is so much going on when we think about our breath. There a lots of different areas we can choose to focus on. For instance, I’ve been narrowing my focus down to the way the air feels as it leaves and enters my nostrils. You might also choose to focus on the way the breath feels in other areas of the body, or the temperature difference on the inhale vs. the exhale. Maybe you’d like to focus on the sounds you make while breathing. There are lots of different things about the act of breathing to pay attention to, if you find the “breath” too amorphous and vague.
At least for me, it’s very beneficial to pick something very small and specific if I want to achieve that soothing, flow-state of focus. Even though it’s tempting to bounce back and forth between options, it’s important to commit to whatever you decide to focus on and stick to it. Rest assured that regardless of what you choose, the result will be the same. It’s the act of focusing that we are trying to practice, so the object of that focus is irrelevant.
Racing thoughts are a common part of anxiety. It feels like there are just so many things demanding our attention. It becomes overwhelming. Focusing our minds is a great way to calm ourselves down when we are feeling stressed out. Even if you don’t have time to sit down and do a formal meditation, you can always find a meditative state no matter where you are or what you’re doing. All you have to do is decide on something small to focus on. If you are walking, you might decide to focus on the way the heels of your feet feel when they contact the ground underneath you. If you are drawing, you might focus on the movement of your hand or the sensation of touching your brush or pen to the surface of the paper or canvas. If you are cooking, maybe focus on the way the foods smell as you prepare them, or the sounds of chopping and heating the ingredients. If you’re washing the dishes you might focus on the temperature of the water and how it feels against your skin. Or the sounds of the dishes as they clink against one another.
In today’s world filled with endless distractions vying for our attention, it can be especially difficult to stay focused on anything for very long. If you’re someone like me who has had trouble keeping your attention where you want it, try choosing an even smaller, simpler point to focus on. While it hasn’t made things perfect, it has definitely helped me a lot during my meditation and also when stressful moments arise. Most importantly, practice offering yourself compassion when you’re struggling. I promise you it’ll be worth the struggle. Focus is a muscle that we can build up more and more of over time. The older I get the more I realize just how important our focus is. It genuinely shapes our entire reality. The more we strengthen our ability to direct that focus towards what we want, the more ease we will begin to experience in our lives.
Holding Your Breath
Stop whatever you are doing and take a moment to just notice your breath. Don’t worry about changing it, just observe how you breath when you aren’t paying attention. What is your breath like? For me, at pretty much any given moment unless I’m doing yoga, my breath is painfully shallow. Often I’ll notice that I’ve actually been holding my breath! I particularly notice this tendency when I’m feeling anxious.
For most of my life, I never thought about breathing at all. Breathing is unconscious, it’s a reflex, our bodies are taking care of that for us. These are the things I remember learning when I was growing up. Without yoga, I never would have learned the power that is held inside of my breath. I had no idea that we had the ability to retrain ourselves to have more beneficial breathing patterns or that the breath had any significance besides keeping us alive.
Society tells us that we need all of these magic fixes for our depression, anxiety, fatigue, etc. We medicate and distract ourselves, doing anything to avoid the signals our bodies are sending us. We are never taught how to value and honor our breath for the miracle that it is. In my opinion, pranayama (breathwork) is one of the most advanced aspects of yoga and also the most important.
Living in a world of excess, it seems impossible that there could be so many life changing benefits from something as simple as breathing. Yet there is a breathwork practice for anything that you may want to achieve. Through the power of our breath we can energize ourselves, we can calm our nervous systems, we can elevate our mood, we can cool ourselves down, warm ourselves up, we can even experience altered states of consciousness! And we can do all of this for free, regardless of where we are, regardless of who we are. If you’re living, you can practice pranayama.
Unfortunately, I am still far away from unlocking the full potential of my own breath. Even after years of yoga and meditation, I am still working on just being able to notice my breath as I move through my day. I’ve particularly been trying to focus on checking in with my breath when I feel anxious. When our sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) kicks on, the body naturally makes our breath quick and shallow. It is under the assumption that it needs to prepare to either flee or attack whatever threat may be nearby. However, this is supposed to be a short-lived experience. When we find ourselves perpetually in this heightened state, we start to experience various mental and physical health issues.
Interestingly enough, this feedback loop works in both directions. Our mind is usually the one running the show, telling the body it’s time to act. The body has just as much control over the mind though. If we can learn to recognize our stress response, we can override it with our breath. Now, this is no easy feat, and it definitely takes a lot of practice, but it is worth it. Don’t give up. Keep practicing and eventually we can all cultivate a beautiful symbiotic relationship with our own breath.
There is so much pleasure to be found in the simple act of breathing. One of the most valuable parts of my last acid experience was finding a stronger connection to my breath. As I laid in the grass with my boyfriend, enjoying the sun streaming down through the leaves above us and listening to the hum of locus in the background, I became intoxicated with the feeling of my own inhales and exhales. Each sip of air felt incredible, fresh oxygen, the gentle expansion of my lungs. Each out breath was a gorgeous release, a cleansing. I could have spent the whole evening just savoring my own breathing.
That experience has stayed with me since then. I am still able to tap into that sense of gratitude and wonder as I breathe. My breath alone can be better than any drug or addiction out there. And it’s mine to enjoy whenever I wish without consequence. I’ve even come up with a little visualization that helps me get back in touch with my LSD experience. I think it would work well for anyone who has been or still is a smoker.
As you breath in, just imagine you are taking a nice long, delicious drag off of a cigarette, vape, or joint. I genuinely think one of the reasons humans seem to enjoy smoking things so much is because it allows us to slow down and focus on our breath for a few minutes. You may even find it helpful to visualize the air as smoke moving in and out of your body. This would be an excellent visualization to try the next time you find yourself holding your breath or breathing very shallow.
Wherever you may be in regard to a pranayama practice, for the rest of the day, just try to come back to your breath whenever you notice yourself feeling anxious. Are you holding your breath? Is washing the dishes really that unpleasant or is it because you are unconsciously trying to not breath until you’re finished? No matter what is sparking that anxiety in me, checking in with my breath is always a huge help.
Let me know what your experience has been like regarding breathwork. When did you first realize the significance of the breath? What are some of your favorite pranayama practices? If you decide to try my little visualization, let me know how it went for you.
Breathing in I taste the thick sweetness of summer air breathing out A shimmer of satisfaction ripples through me Enveloped in a world so miraculous and perfect humbled by the chance to simply be my soul sings sweetly along with the heartbeat of existence So much beauty to behold the many layers of this life an endless spiraling inwards and outwards far past infinity incomprehensible complexity Unfurling like a flower to the sunlight my innermost essence opens to encompass the vast vibrations of this earth Five superpowers called senses ten fingers, ten toes a body that heals and grows a brain that questions and creates at one with all there is but also somehow separate How sublime it is to surrender to the deep knowing in our bones that stardust inside of us that says, "all is well" that tells us, "have faith, and you will find all you seek"
Why I Want to Stop Smoking
Hard to believe it’s already June 2021. This past January I had intended to stop smoking cigarettes. I hadn’t realized just what a difficult task that would be unfortunately. I didn’t really have much of a plan either. I did manage to cut back somewhat, and I am proud of that fact. But just like in the past when I took up smoking, the longer it goes on, the more repulsed I become by it. Each time I light a cigarette I am overcome with guilt and shame and anxiety. Strangely what pushes me to light up is also anxiety. There is a momentary relief as I inhale that foul smoke. I reminisce about the reckless abandon I once felt, the freedom, the sheer disregard for everyone and everything, even myself, in favor of the sickening pleasure of the moment. It made me feel tragic, dangerous, poetic. But these feelings are the foolish fantasy of youth, and like youth they cannot remain for long. What was once an act of rebellion has become the very chains that bind me. So today I want to write about the reasons that I want to stop smoking in the hopes it will shake me free from this secret shame.
One of the reasons smoking causes me such intense shame is the hypocrisy of it. I am constantly railing against the hypocrisy of loving animals while simultaneously eating them, but in the end I am just as absurd. How can a vegan, yoga teacher smoke cigarettes? It’s laughable. I claim to care about my body and my health, but how can I while I continue to poison myself all day, every day? I want to treat my body with the love and respect that it deserves. I want to take good care of it so that it can take good care of me for a long time. If this pandemic has taught the world anything, it should be the incredible importance of our lungs and respiratory system. Even my yoga practice is all about the breath. Yet despite this sacred gift of breath I have been given, I choke myself with soot and black smoke. I pollute the very part of me that gives life.
Time to state the obvious. Buying and smoking cigarettes isn’t exactly “vegan.” While it may not be a food or an animal product, like certain cosmetics, the cigarette industry is no friend to animals. While I’m not sure if they still do (I’m too afraid to google it) I know that cigarette companies are notorious for their horrific animal testing. Whether or not these practices persist, I cannot continue to support such a heinous industry. Not only that, more personally, I am directly harming my own animals by smoking. This is the main reason that finally got me to stop last time. I may not care enough about myself to stop, but I love my sweet babies even more. I genuinely believe that the world as we know it will come to an end before I have to worry about lung cancer, but my fur children have much shorter life spans. I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I caused them to suffer and die from the effects of second hand smoke. I’m so ashamed of this aspect of my smoking that my boyfriend doesn’t even know. I’m afraid it would make him lose all respect for me, and I wouldn’t blame him.
I don’t even want to calculate the amount of money I have wasted on cigarettes. They are expensive enough as it is, but I also buy Marlboro so it’s even worse. I definitely spend at least $30 a week on cigarettes. I am such a cheap person though! I don’t even want to spend $10 a year on multivitamins. Or $60 every other week on therapy! I’m basically teaching my yoga class to pay for cigarettes. The irony is palpable. I should be saving that money or at least spending it on something worthwhile. Maybe when I finally stop, I’ll set that money aside and get myself something nice with it as a reward.
Even though all of my other reasons are probably more important, the biggest thing pushing me to stop is shame. I’m pretty much a secret smoker. My close friends and family know, but even so, I try not to smoke around them. I always feel so shitty and stupid whenever I do. They must think I’m such a fool. Besides that, I don’t want to make them worry. I used to sneak out at work and smoke once or twice a day. Eventually I got caught and even though they didn’t seem to care, I was utterly humiliated that they knew. Shame is a toxic emotion. It rots away your insides. It erodes any positive image you have of yourself. It isolates and separates. I want to live a life I can be proud of. I can’t bear to live in shame any more.
I’m sure there are probably many more reasons I could think of that make me want to quit, but those are the biggest ones. To be honest, it was hard for me to even write about this. Denial is part of the way I’ve been able to continue for so long. It’s painful to face your own hypocrisy. I have a plan now though and I’m praying it works this time. I’ve ordered some nicotine salt vape juice. I know it’s not ideal, but I figure it’s still a step in the right direction. I’m not going to buy any more cigarettes. Once I finish the packs I have, I’m going to switch back to vaping. I’m hoping this will be the end of my dalliance with tobacco. Wish me luck.