Mindfulness

Why yoga + the body are social and political

  In response to a recent email, I received several notes saying, “I didn’t sign up for your newsletter to hear about your political views.” I get that. Yet to separate integrative, mind-body approaches from politics sets up a false division between them. I’d like to explain why that is—and how it has a negative impact on well-being. Let’s start with the body.   Why Integrative Therapies are Inherently Social (and Political) From personal feelings like anger or sadness to social emotions like shame or trust, emotions have their origin as sensations in the body. As this origin story begins, receptors in your skin and internal organs collect information. These receptors specialize in distinct sensations: the speed of your heart, the pace and depth of your breath, hunger or fullness, warmth or coolness, activity or soreness in your muscles, emptiness or fullness in your abdomen (and bladder and rectum), and …

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Will the Real Mind-Body Connection Please Stand Up? (Your key to well-being.)

We often speak of a mind-body connection, as though under the right conditions, the mind can talk to the body, and the body can talk back. (This calls to mind the old-fashioned screech of a dial-up modem connection as we try to go online.) But the breaking story in well-being concerns the relationship between the mind and body (and in addition, the brain). One of the most significant relationships we’ll ever have, it determines our physical, emotional, and social well-being. For over a decade, I’ve taught what I call the Mind, Brain, and Body Network. If you’ve studied with me in person or online, you’ll notice that the elements have changed over time as emerging research highlights new areas of study. Here’s an up-to-the-moment picture of how I conceptualize this extraordinary communications network and why it holds the key to well-being. The Mind, Brain, and Body Network. The Autonomic Nervous …

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A Public Figure’s Guide to Messing up and Learning in Public

This week, several people asked me to listen to the intro of a yoga podcast in which the host, J. Brown, defends a blog he wrote refuting the firsthand account of Christie Roe about how yoga teacher Mark Whitwell sexually assaulted her.* [See below for a link and content warning.] The people who asked me to review this intro were understandably confused. They had many questions. What made them so viscerally uncomfortable? Was the host entitled to tell “his side of the story,” as he put it? If he apologizes for his actions and seems contrite, even tearful, should he be given a third, fourth, fifth chance at making things right? What comprises a full apology (as opposed to an emotional one)? Why are so many people defending his intentions? And what exactly is learning in public? There’s so much to unpack here, and others have already addressed several of …

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I Feel Your Pain: An Empath’s Guide to Staying Balanced

Do you often wonder which emotions are yours, and which belong to someone else? When people you care about are hurting, do you feel their pain so deeply that it’s hard to separate—even after they’re out of crisis mode? In relationships, do you donate so much of your own natural resources that you suffer from a chronic energy shortage? And with those you’re close to, is it hard to figure out what your own needs are—or even what you want for dinner? If the answer is yes, it’s highly likely that you’re an empath. What does it mean to be an empath, and why is it fraught with these basic life challenges? Derived from the Greek “em” (in) and “pathos” (feeling), the term empathic means you’re able to “feel into” others’ feelings. But for empaths, this sensitivity is magnified to the nth degree. An empath is more tuned in, more …

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When Advance Requires a Retreat

At the close of 2016, I embarked on a 10-day silent retreat in western Massachusetts. It was necessary: chronic overwork, multi-tasking, and the political events of the year had fractured my attention and taxed my nervous system. Ten days might be hard, I thought to myself, but it was also necessary—like “attentional rehab.” It was hard. It was also nourishing. And it was full-on, life-changing extraordinary. Most of us have heard alluring tales of mystical experiences that arise during a retreat: unity with the Divine, a direct encounter with emptiness, and other such happenings. It’s tempting to think that mystical experiences are “the payoff” of a retreat. Yet most of us, myself included, have close encounters of a more pedestrian kind: intense, searing pain, for instance. Sleepiness (I much prefer the Buddhist terms “sloth” and “torpor,” which sound more dramatic and justified). Alien forms of thought that invade our mind: …

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What’s up with the Chakras?

At first glance, it can be tempting to dismiss the chakra system as an esoteric, new age concept. During my last teacher-training course in Boston, a participant voiced her reservations. “In theory, the chakras are so compelling,” she said. “But out of all the things we study, they seem least connected to the actual practice of yoga.” The class agreed. “What, exactly, are we supposed to do with them?” they wondered. While the chakras offer a rich conceptual framework for growth, they give less direction for putting that framework into practice. Over the past year of reflection on my students’ queries, I’ve begun to wonder whether there’s more to the chakras than meets the eye. Could it be that when we view them through the lenses of psychology, mindfulness, neuroscience, and yoga, the chakras become more than elegant vessels for self-understanding? Could they in fact be touchstones for practice, showing …

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Lose Your Momentum ~ Before It’s Too Late

Recently, during a therapeutic vinyasa practice at The Yoga Conference in Toronto, the class and I encountered a pivotal learning moment. As we reviewed the transition from Downward Dog into Lunge,  a participant asked about speed. “Intuitively, I get that slow is good,” she said. “But how slow? And is it O.K., sometimes, to practice the old and fast flow?” Her question gave rise to a passionate dialogue about how we use momentum in yoga and in life, and what the consequences are of doing so. Momentum refers to the building up of forward movement that takes us from one well-defined place to the next. It turns out that we use momentum in times of discomfort. We use it in transitions, for instance, when we’re caught between an old place or way of being and a new one. And we do so when the pressure to perform well lends emphasis to …

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