“The quieter you become, the more you are able to hear.” rumi
Silence is one of those things you love or you hate. Kind of like doing nothing, you’re either good at it or it drives you crazy. Now I’m not talking about being lazy and dumb, I’m talking about the art of stillness… Personally I suck at it.
The first time I sat still in silence and did nothing I was 29 years old and did it on the recommendation of my therapist. She said just try it for like 60 seconds and see what happens…no big deal right?…right.
Yea I didn’t last 60 seconds before I was a puddle of tears and snot. Between when I started the timer and turned into a soggy tear streaked mess felt like forever, all of it shocked me for sure! I wasn’t sad or mad or crazy or any thing else…at least I didn’t think so. I was “simply” having a physical release. And WTF is that anyway?? It felt super scary but it also felt really good. I was hooked! Three months later I was enrolled at the Boulder College of Massage Therapy and started their Associates program that fall.
That was the beginning of my journey. I was trying to learn as much as I could about alternative healing, wellness, alignment, breathe, all of it. Every time I learned something new the mountain of what I didn’t know or didn’t understand grew. I still feel like I’m scrambling up that peak less mountain. But I do have more tools in my tool belt that aid me on this adventure. Bonus!
These tools include the practice of Asana which are poses practiced is a precise way to release energetic blockages in the body via Nadis (energetic channels). Pranayama which is the yogic practice of controlling the breathe. And the practice of Deep Listening, this practice is a highly active state that creates a focused awareness to receive communication that your own body is giving you.
I am definitely not an expert just a fellow explorer. And these tools take constant practice, if you don’t use it you lose it as they say. But literally anyone can pick up these tools and start making them work for you. And they cost zero dollars! So what the hell is Asana anyway? It is pronounce ASS-a-nuh or at least that’s how I say it and yeah where does your ASS go? That’s right it goes in your seat! Asana is one of the eight limbs of Yoga all of the limbs are important but this one was particularly important for a very Physical being like myself. Asana literally means seat. So each yoga or asana pose like child’s pose (one of my favorites), let’s just say, is an opportunity to find your seat or your comfort. It is a quality of ‘settling in’ the pose. The opportunity to exercise this ‘settling in’ quality goes up as the pose becomes more strenuous or complex.
So just as an example when I first started doing yoga I did child’s pose and I thought ‘I got this! This is easy.’ Then I transitioned to a forward fold and I thought ‘oh my gawwd how can that lady over there touch her toes?! I’ll never be able to do that! I can see them but…eek never never never be able to touch…grunt..toes…out of breath sigh.’ Yes I have a very alive inner dialogue. Eventually about a year later I was able to touch my toes and I had a mini extremely silent victory party in the middle of Yoga class when this happened. No one noticed. The Asana is part of clearing the energetic channels in the body. The other part is experiencing the quality of ‘settling in’ or comfort while in the pose and that is where the practice of pranayama comes in.
Again, I am definitely not an expert and pranayama can take a lot of practice and there’s all kinds of pranayama and technique and it’s all complicated and stuff. But there is a beginning point that I think holds infinite richness! Pranayama literally means prana- ‘life force’ or ‘energy source’ and Yama- ‘control’ or ‘restraint’ which is typically translated as ‘breath control’. The normal rate of respiration for an adult at rest is 12-20 breathes per minute. This is the mindless act of inhalation and exhalation we do a trillion times a day. So if I were to sit in a seat and focus my attention on my inhale and my exhale and then slowly tried to lengthen my inhale and my exhale by maybe one second I would be beginning an active breathing or pranayama practice. The practice of active breathing is scientifically proven to turn on the parasympathetic nervous system, our rest and restore system, making ‘settling in’ or finding comfort way easier. Now I combine this active breathing with child’s pose see if I can find that quality of ‘settling in’ or comfort and just notice what happens. When I’m done there I move on to a different asana or pose like let’s say forward fold and repeat technique, see what happens. The see what happens part is the beginning of that whole Deep Listening practice.
Deep Listening sounds hard and it is…kind of. So I want you to take 30 seconds, go ahead and set the timer on your phone, and I want you to try really really hard to think about nothing, absolutely nothing. Ok GO!……Fun? Did you do it? Was your mind a still and serene lake? Not freaking likely right? The mind is like a toddler or like a puppy it has an attention span of literally 5 seconds maybe less and pees all over everything, builds towers to get to the cookie jar and sticks pb&j sammys in the VCR. The best way to get your ADD inner toddler to behave is to give them a job or a task. So I’m going to do the same things I did when I started my pranayama exercise. I’m going to sit in a seat, I’ll begin some active breathing, then I’m going to ask my inner toddler if it notices any weird, heavy, light or scratchy feeling starting with my toes and systematically go through each part of the body until I reach the top of my head.
This exercise can be a little tedious but it gets the mind focused on a deeper sense of listening to the body. After that I do the same thing in child’s pose. Anytime the mind starts to wander and you find yourself ‘checking out’ don’t get frustrated it’s a toddler in there or puppy if it easier to be nice to a cute cuddly puppy and just bring your toddler/puppy back to the task at hand. Sitting in the pose/asana, actively controlling the breathe/pranayama and Deep Listening/noticing if your body feels heavy, sticky, light(insert any adjective here) or whatever. Through all of this see if you can find that quality of comfort or settling in.
The real magic from all this comes when you’re in traffic and some jerk cuts you off and you would typically speed forward to cut him off and hit the brakes with a malicious sneer on your face BUT instead you settle in your body, you actively breath, you notice the sensation of heaviness and tightness this creates in your body and you let it go. This may or may not be a true story. When you start seeing these 3 tiny little practices make significant changes in the way you react to life it’s pretty freakin bad ass.
At the beginning I wrote that I suck at the art of stillness and believe me I do. But I am a lot less terrible at it than I was before these 3 little gems landed in my life and in my awareness. And right now with CoVid-19 and a full house arrest set in place I’m grateful that even though I’m not good at it I have tools to navigate the silence, the stillness and the errant toddler.
Wishing you Wellness and Laughter,
“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to bloom.”