Breathing and being breathed

I have been breathing since shortly after I was born, but I never really gave much thought to it until I started doing yoga a few decades ago, and there wasn’t much instruction. In fact, I was a mindless smoker for part of my younger, ignorant, addicted life.

Pranayama (breath work) is the 4th limb of yoga, right after asana (postures). A few of my yoga teachers have included pranayama techniques at the end of asana class. Awareness of where I feel my breath, feeling it down to my pubic bone, feeling it on the sides and back of my rib cage and in my lumbar area and between my shoulder blades, keeping my shoulders down, letting my diaphragm really expand downwards, moving the heart/lungs and liver/gallbladder/pancreas/stomach/spleen on either side of the diaphragm, increasing the movement of detoxifying lymph with each breath, being present with the energizing inhalation and the relaxing exhalation, noticing the pauses, noticing what happens in my chakras and in my whole being…

Some of the yogic breathing techniques that have stuck with me through the years are kapalabhati (breath of fire), a rapid bellows breathing that floods the body with cleansing, nourishing oxygen as well as increases motivation — and also prevents discomfort from my hiatal hernia, and nadi shodhana (alternate nostril breathing), calming and believed to balance the hemispheres of the brain.

Were you aware that throughout the day, one of your nostrils is more open than the other, and that they periodically switch sides?

Source: https://grimmly2007.blogspot.com/2015/02/krishnamacharyas-own-asana-and.html

I practice these two techniques every day along with a more modern technique, 4-7-8 breathing, that was taught to Dr. Andrew Weil by his mentor, Dr. Robert Fulford, an American cranial osteopath/shaman (Wikipedia describes him as a pioneer in alternative and energetic medicine) who obviously had studied pranayam.

Dr. Weil recommends doing no more than four rounds of 4-7-8 breathing daily for a couple of months to train the nervous system to quickly move into a relaxed state. I notice that the main times I need to use it are when I’m driving and I narrowly avoid hitting something or being hit.

Another practice that’s not a technique (at least that I’ve ever heard of) is something that occurs in meditation. I call it “being breathed”. It occurs after settling the body and calming the mind, paradoxically by using the breath to relax by lengthening exhalations.

As relaxation/parasympathetic dominance increases, a gradual detachment from controlling the breath allows it to shift to operate on its own, automatically — as it does naturally when we’re not paying attention.

When you notice that your breath has become automatic — you aren’t doing anything to it or with it — you’re simply allowing it to do its thing — breathing becomes completely passive, occurring on its own, and observing it doesn’t change it — that’s what I call being breathed.

There’s a kind of awesomeness to this experience. I wonder if this is what Shri Krishnamacharya, founder of modern yoga, may have been referring to when he said pranayama could result in samadhi.

Am I experiencing samadhi? I don’t know. There’s a sense of oneness and a subtle sense of bliss that permeates. Namaste, my friends.

So that’s my current practice, doing three techniques daily that take 5 minutes, plus meditating (10 minutes with Sam Harris’ Waking Up app, and usually a few more in silence, breathing equally through nose and mouth with my tongue on my palate behind my upper teeth, a Kum Nye technique).

Ecstatic dance in Austin, Texas

I’ve been doing ecstatic dance since 1995, mostly in Austin. It’s brought me many gifts: a community of friends, inspiration, playfulness, release, sweat, cardio, deeper embodiment, awareness of my body/others/the space, hugs, a place to experiment with movement and energy, expression, connection, and the natural high that comes after dancing for an hour or two.

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The availability of ecstatic dance in Austin has increased over the years, and the community evolves. I will list current opportunities here and update this blog post with changes when they occur.

At all of these dances, we dance barefoot in clothes we can move and sweat in. A facilitator puts together a program of danceable recorded music — and sometimes there’s live music. These dances take the form of a musical wave that usually follows the pattern of the 5 Rhythms wave (flowing, staccato, chaos, lyrical, and stillness) of the late Gabrielle Roth (shown above), starting slowly, building to a crescendo, and descending into stillness — a manifestation of the idea that each dance is a journey into yourself traversing different interior terrains.

The dance space is nonverbal — we take our conversations outside the space.

Boundaries are important. Not everyone wants to dance with a partner all the time or even to be touched. We read and use body language to say yes or no, and we don’t take it personally if someone doesn’t want to dance with us. People dance alone, with partners (many or a few), or with groups of people.

The safety of all is important too. Some dances allow contact improv or acro-yoga (usually on the edges of the space) and others don’t. Some allow children and others don’t.

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Courtesy: The New Yorker

Some facilitators offer a theme for the dance after a warmup. Some may offer a guided warmup, while others provide guidelines for newcomers.

All ages are welcome at most of these dances. I’ve danced with people that are nearing 80 and with babies in Snuglis on a parent’s chest. If you are considering bringing children, it’s probably a good idea to connect with the facilitator first. If you bring them, you will need to make sure they and the other dancers stay safe.

Also, most facilitators make earplugs or headphones available for those sensitive to loud music, children or adults — and you can always bring your own.

At the end there’s a closing circle, where OMs or a silent meditation may happen, people share their first names, and there may be some shareback about the experience and/or announcements from dancers, or not.

~~~

All of the founders and facilitators listed below are on Facebook, and some of the dances have their own Facebook page or website. Links are provided below for more details.

  • Tribal Joy meets Sunday mornings from 10-1 at The High Road, 700 Dawson (just south of the river with views of the downtown skyline). Oscar Madera is the founder and most frequent facilitator. $12, or buy 5 dances for $50 or 10 for $100. Tribal Joy and Ecstatic Soul Sessions honor each other’s dance cards.
  • Ecstatic Dance Austin (click here for website and to join email list) meets at Dark Clan Fight Lab, 1106 Smith Road #106 (near 183 and Bolm Rd. in east Austin) on Sundays, 9:30-12:30. David Baker and Ellen Evans are the founders and facilitators. $12.
  • Reset meets every Monday, 5:15-6:45 pm, at Dance International, 2417 Buell, in north Austin near Burnet and Steck. It was founded and is facilitated by Lisa DeLand, a 5 Rhythms teacher trained by Gabrielle Roth. $15.
  • Ecstatic Soul Sessions meets Tuesday evenings from 7:30-10 at The High Road. Mia E. Pem is the founder and a frequent facilitator along with Lisa DeLand and Joel Laviolette. $12 per dance, or buy 5 dances for $50 or 10 for $100. Tribal Joy and Ecstatic Soul Sessions honor each other’s dance cards.
  • Indra’s Awarehouse, 7904 FM 969 (take MLK Blvd. east of Austin), offers ecstatic dance on Thursday nights, 7:30-10 pm, and Sunday nights, 6-9 pm. Randi Southard is the founder. $10.
  • Inner Rhythms ecstatic dance is held on the second and fourth Friday of each month from 7:30-9:30, at south Austin’s Zero Gravity Institute, 2919 Manchaca Rd, Suite 105-A. Donna Starnes facilitates. $15. 
  • Step into Yes, for women only, meets the first Saturday of every month from 10:45 am to 1 pm at the Life in the City sanctuary, 205 E. Monroe, off South Congress. Created and facilitated by 5 Rhythms teacher Lisa DeLand, Step into Yes includes a facilitated-by-a-dancer creative interlude sandwiched between a warmup and a 5 Rhythms wave. Sliding scale $15-25.
  • Rhythm Sanctuary is new to Austin, having taken root in the Boulder and Denver area. Shannon Gill-Jones is the founder, and Russ Ohlhausen facilitates. Dates TBD.

Other dance opportunities

Orienting to stillness, orienting to motion

I started this blog to document meditating every day in 2010. My blog posts got kind of boring and I ended up broadening the topic, but before the year ended, I had made some big decisions, changing my approaches to work and home that resulted in living a more authentic, self-realizing life.

Selling my house and quitting my job with no clear path ahead were not changes I would have undertaken had not my meditation practice compelled me to make them for my own well-being and trust that the Universe and my own capabilities would come through. There was uncertainty along the way, and luck, but I figured I could always rent a room and do temp jobs to support myself, and that gave me courage. (I rented a room and did a few temp jobs on my path!)

However, I really wanted more than that for myself: I wanted to own an affordable, paid-for home in Austin, Texas, and I wanted to do work that I really loved. And I got those things.  Meditation helped me understand that not living authentically was no longer possible for me, and I’m happy with those decisions. Continue reading

What is ‘enlightenment,’ really?

Here’s a new quote I just added to my Favorite quotes page:

One idea that really hampers us is to believe that people get ‘enlightened,’ and then they’re that way forever and ever. We may have our moments, and if we get sick and have lots of things happening, we may fall back. But a person who practices consistently over years and years is more that way, more of the time, all the time. And that’s enough. There is no such thing as getting it. ~ Charlotte Joko Beck

Courtesy of Tricycle Daily Dharma. Click here to link to an interview with her in which she shares more about how to practice.

For more quotes from Joko Beck, click this link to read what I posted right after her death.

What If?

What if our religion was each other?
If our practice was our life?
If prayer was our words?
What if the Temple was the Earth?
If forests were our church?
If holy water – the rivers, lakes and ocean?
What if meditation was our relationships?
If the Teacher was Life?
If wisdom was self-knowledge?
If love was the center of our being?
~ Ganga White

New addition to my Favorite Quotes page.

Thanks to David Baker for sharing on Facebook. Yes. These are the questions to be asked.

Each moment, life as it is, the only teacher: quotes from Joko Beck

I posted this originally on June 16, 2011. Needing to remind myself of her wisdom, I thought you might want to (re)read her words and appreciate her wisdom too.

~~

Charlotte Joko Beck died yesterday, very peacefully, at the age of 94. She was a Zen teacher who made a major impact on American Buddhism.

Here’s a quote from article that puts her work into perspective (no longer available):

The Ordinary Mind School was among the first Zen communities to consciously engage the emotional life and the shadows of the human mind as Zen practice. The late Charlotte Joko Beck and her dharma heirs adapted elements of the vipassana tradition — a relentless inquiry into the contours of the human mind — as unambiguous Zen discipline.

Here are some quotes from her:

With unfailing kindness, your life always presents what you need to learn. Whether you stay home or work in an office or whatever, the next teacher is going to pop right up.

Caught in the self-centered dream, only suffering;
holding to self-centered thoughts, exactly the dream;
each moment, life as it is, the only teacher;
being just this moment, compassion’s way.

Enlightenment is not something you achieve. It is the absence of something. All your life you have been going forward after something, pursuing some goal. Enlightenment is dropping all that.

Wisdom is to see that there is nothing to search for. If you live with a difficult person, that’s nirvana. Perfect. If you’re miserable, that’s it. And I’m not saying to be passive, not to take action; then you would be trying to hold nirvana as a fixed state. It’s never fixed, but always changing. There is no implication of ‘doing nothing.’ But deeds done that are born of this understanding are free of anger and judgment. No expectation, just pure and compassionate action.

Practice is just hearing, just seeing, just feeling. This is what Christians call the face of God: simply taking in this world as it manifests. We feel our body; we hear the cars and birds. That’s all there is.

Life always gives us exactly the teacher we need at every moment. This includes every mosquito, every misfortune, every red light, every traffic jam, every obnoxious supervisor (or employee), every illness, every loss, every moment of joy or depression, every addiction, every piece of garbage, every breath. Every moment is the guru.

So a relationship is a great gift, not because it makes us happy — it often doesn’t — but because any intimate relationship, if we view it as practice, is the clearest mirror we can find.

Practice can be stated very simply. It is moving from a life of hurting myself and others to a life of not hurting myself and others. That seems so simple — except when we substitute for real practice some idea that we should be different or better than we are, or that our lives should be different from the way they are. When we substitute our ideas about what should be (such notions as “I should not be angry or confused or unwilling”) for our life as it truly is, then we’re off base and our practice is barren.

We have to face the pain we have been running from. In fact, we need to learn to rest in it and let its searing power transform us.

We learn in our guts, not just in our brain, that a life of joy is not in seeking happiness, but in experiencing and simply being the circumstances of our life as they are; not in fulfilling personal wants, but in fulfilling the needs of life.

Meditation is not about some state, it is about the meditator.

Zen practice isn’t about a special place or a special peace, or something other than being with our life just as it is. It’s one of the hardest things for people to get: that my very difficulties in this very moment are the perfection… When we are attached to the way we think we should be or the way we think anyone else should be, we can have very little appreciation of life as it is…whether or not we commit physical suicide, if our attachment to our dream remains unquestioned and untouched, we are killing ourselves, because our true life goes by almost unnoticed.

In remembrance of Gabrielle Roth: freedom is our holy work

One of the significant teachers in my life died yesterday, and I’ve struggled with writing about it. I find myself getting too heady, and yet this loss is actually so profound that when I took a nap yesterday, I dreamed I was balancing upside down on my head on a dance floor, surrounded by lively, active children.

When I woke, I could feel the pressure on the crown of my head.

Headstand is definitely about changing perspective.

I stumbled into ecstatic dance 18 years ago, first encountering the 5 rhythms of Gabrielle Roth and Sweat Your Prayers after I left church as something I could no longer take part in with integrity.

I found a tribe, a practice, and a way of experiencing myself and the world as energy.

I’m not sure, but I suspect that the latter is the change in perspective that I’m integrating with this shock of loss and review of Gabrielle’s influence on my life, that it’s all just energy all the time, and it’s always changing, always dancing. The best I can ever do is to be centered, grounded, embodied, and ready to meet it. What’s solid is awareness.

I’ve had issues and struggles at times with that tribe, practice, and worldview, and they have deeply shaped me. I keep coming back.

Here’s what ecstatic dance is to me: being free, feeling joy, being embodied, clearing, cleansing, breathing, sweating, extending myself, being aware, taking care of my body, pushing to my edge and beyond, being in the moment, sharing, delighting, inquiring, discovering, connecting, having compassion, being inspired, seeing, allowing, playing, surrendering, breaking myself open, feeling what comes up, being danced, letting go, grieving, dancing with other versions of me, dancing with the entire room including the space, letting life and everything flow through me, being totally and completely alive, being fully present, blowing all the blocks out of my energy channels.

I feel so grateful to have found this and that I am able to do this.

Thank you, Gabrielle Roth, for your life’s work. Thank you, dancing tribe.

Here’s Gabrielle in her own words.

I became a mapmaker for others to follow, but not in my footsteps, in their own. Many of us are looking for a beat, something solid and rooted where we can take refuge and begin to explore the fluidity of being alive, to investigate why we often feel stuck, numb, spaced-out, tense, inert, and unable to stand up or sit down or unscramble the screens that reflect our collective insanity.

The question I ask myself and everyone else is, “Do you have the discipline to be a free spirit?” Can we be free of all that binds and bends us into a shape of consciousness that has nothing to do with who we are from moment to moment, from breath to breath?

Dance is the fastest, most direct route to the truth — not some big truth that belongs to everybody, but the get down and personal kind, the what’s-happening-in-me-right-now kind of truth. We dance to reclaim our brilliant ability to disappear in something bigger, something safe, a space without a critic or a judge or an analyst.

Each moment, life as it is, the only teacher: quotes from Joko Beck

Charlotte Joko Beck died yesterday, very peacefully, at the age of 94. She was a Zen teacher who made a major impact on American Buddhism.

Here’s a quote from an article that puts her work into perspective (no longer available online):

The Ordinary Mind School was among the first Zen communities to consciously engage the emotional life and the shadows of the human mind as Zen practice. The late Charlotte Joko Beck and her dharma heirs  adapted elements of the vipassana tradition — a relentless inquiry into the contours of the human mind—as unambiguous Zen discipline.

Here are some quotes from her:

With unfailing kindness, your life always presents what you need to learn. Whether you stay home or work in an office or whatever, the next teacher is going to pop right up.

Caught in the self-centered dream, only suffering;
holding to self-centered thoughts, exactly the dream;
each moment, life as it is, the only teacher;
being just this moment, compassion’s way.

Enlightenment is not something you achieve. It is the absence of something. All your life you have been going forward after something, pursuing some goal. Enlightenment is dropping all that.

Wisdom is to see that there is nothing to search for. If you live with a difficult person, that’s nirvana. Perfect. If you’re miserable, that’s it. And I’m not saying to be passive, not to take action; then you would be trying to hold nirvana as a fixed state. It’s never fixed, but always changing. There is no implication of ‘doing nothing.’ But deeds done that are born of this understanding are free of anger and judgment. No expectation, just pure and compassionate action.

Practice is just hearing, just seeing, just feeling. This is what Christians call the face of God: simply taking in this world as it manifests. We feel our body; we hear the cars and birds. That’s all there is.

Life always gives us exactly the teacher we need at every moment. This includes every mosquito, every misfortune, every red light, every traffic jam, every obnoxious supervisor (or employee), every illness, every loss, every moment of joy or depression, every addiction, every piece of garbage, every breath. Every moment is the guru.

So a relationship is a great gift, not because it makes us happy – it often doesn’t – but because any intimate relationship, if we view it as practice, is the clearest mirror we can find.

Practice can be stated very simply. It is moving from a life of hurting myself and others to a life of not hurting myself and others. That seems so simple — except when we substitute for real practice some idea that we should be different or better than we are, or that our lives should be different from the way they are. When we substitute our ideas about what should be (such notions as “I should not be angry or confused or unwilling”) for our life as it truly is, then we’re off base and our practice is barren.

We have to face the pain we have been running from. In fact, we need to learn to rest in it and let its searing power transform us.

We learn in our guts, not just in our brain, that a life of joy is not in seeking happiness, but in experiencing and simply being the circumstances of our life as they are; not in fulfilling personal wants, but in fulfilling the needs of life.

Meditation is not about some state, it is about the meditator.

Zen practice isn’t about a special place or a special peace, or something other than being with our life just as it is. It’s one of the hardest things for people to get: that my very difficulties in this very moment are the perfection… When we are attached to the way we think we should be or the way we think anyone else should be, we can have very little appreciation of life as it is…whether or not we commit physical suicide, if our attachment to our dream remains unquestioned and untouched, we are killing ourselves, because our true life goes by almost unnoticed.