Tag Archives: breathing

Casting Off

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mother portrait

A new cycle was beginning.

Jean, our hospice nurse, spent time examining mother. She spoke with confidence and gentleness to my mother. Everything had changed. Since the episode a night earlier, Mother was now too weak to leave her bed. She was confined by her own weakness. Her world began to change. Only days earlier, she had sat in her wheel chair, eaten a normal meal and laughed with us in another room. That was to be her last foray outside of her bedroom and her last burst of energy. Everything was shrinking – her appetite, her mobility, and her own body. But her mind was still quite acute. There was no way I was giving up on her. I still thought she and I could get her through this, despite what the doctors and hospice said.

After Jean took time to get acquainted with Mother, she asked all of us to join her in another room. The mood was sombre as we listened intently. Now we were in the world of hospice, a very foreign country to all of us. Already installed in Mother’s room was the humming oxygen machine to assist her breathing when needed. We had refused bringing in a hospital bed, wanting mother to be in her own usual bed.

Jean explained what it meant to have palliative care. She showed us the powerful drugs, like morphine and lorazepam (for anxiety) that would be available for Mother to help ease her through the process. Luckily, Mom was not in pain, and we were grateful for this. Jean warned us that we should not count on our memory to remember when and how much medication Mother was given. We should have a journal. My brother, the ever organized and with a Navy pilot thoroughness, prepared the journal for us.

I made the decision immediately that I would be the only one to give Mother the heavy drugs. I was still her protector and wanted to prevent her from being drugged unnecessarily. Then we learned of the array of other hospice workers who would be available to help. Ever polite and grateful, we walked Jean to the door, thanking her along the way.

When the door closed, we stood stunned but coping. Bill and Judy would soon be returning back home, but they knew they would never again hear Mother’s cheery voice or see her smile. Each took private time with her, holding back tears as best they could until they left the room. They also knew that this would be difficult for Richard and for me and asked us to call whenever we needed help, no matter the time of day or night.

The four of us talked as Mother rested, still with her ever faithful Siamese cat by her side. We agreed on the plans for the funeral and who would be called in Ann Arbor. This would be the key part bill and Judy would play as we held vigil. As we talked, Judy continued knitting the pretty pink afghan she had been making for Mother as a Christmas gift. The afghan was only partially made.

On the morning that Bill and Judy departed, I stood in the kitchen alone with my brother. He said, “Judy cast off the afghan last night and is leaving it for mother just as it is.” She cast off, a knitting term that was a kind of closure on the item being made. Casting off is also letting the ship or boat be free to go out to sea. Mother was casting off her life as she knew it, and we were with her. The destination seemed certain, but the final journey was not yet charted. That was to be revealed to all of us, along with the ethereal lessons and miracles.

Judy left the afghan draped over Mother’s shoulders as she laid in bed. I tried to keep it there as much as I could, placing it to warm her neck. It was a parting gift made with love. At the time Mom took her last breath, that pink afghan was still warming her. But then, Mother had cast off permanently. She was sailing through clear and vibrant seas, and free at last. Soon she would bring us along.

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The 52: Lesson Forty Seven: Lighten Up! Laugh! It’s Good for You!

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butterflyblueskyGo ahead.  Lighten up! Indulge yourself. Have a good laugh.  You will be doing more to benefit yourself than you might imagine!  Your body and mind will indeed feel lighter because you will be releasing “happy” hormones into your system.  You will be increasing the strength of your immune system.  The oxygen levels will be greater  in both your body and your brain. You will cast out anxiety and stress, all while having a good time doing it.  And you will increase the energy of light and joy and love all around you.  It sounds like a pretty good deal to me.

One of my favorite yoga classes has been on this very subject, of being light.  We focus on feeling our bodies growing lighter and more free.  We laugh freely throughout the class and sometimes sharing our favorite jokes.  One of mine is this:  What did the yogi say to the hot dog vendor?  “Make me one with everything.” Haha.  Then the yogi gave the hot dog vendor a $20 bill.  When no change was offered, the yogi said, “Hey, where’s the change?” The vendor said, “Change comes from within.” Hahahaha!

This class is not a trivial thing.  It offers important lessons about being the Light itself, about not taking ourselves or the world too seriously (an epidemic of seriousness and spiritual conceit has run rampant in the yoga community), and serves as a reminder that everything, including the goofy and wacky, is there for us as a gift of Divine Consciousness.

LESSON FORTY SEVEN

LIGHTEN UP!

What a perfect moment to lighten up!  As daylight hours diminish here in the Northeast United States, some of us feel starved for light.  Holidays arrive with the traditions of lighted candles and sparkling glitter.  But it is nice to know that we, you and I, carry the Light within us all the time, and we experience it in many ways.

Swami Muktananda, a Siddha Yoga guru who has inspired many of my teachings and who seemed to take me under his wing (though he had already left his body or, as we say, died) said this:

See the world as a divine play, as the light of your own soul, and enjoy it while still laughing happily.

I have fond memories of a video containing many clips of him laughing.  It was shown at a special ceremony at an ashram celebrating Muktananda’s life.  The laughter on the screen was contagious.  After that, and much to my surprise, it seemed that he took to manifesting some very funny objects into my yoga room, all with a lesson contained within.  He taught me the value of being light and of laughing.

I needed that lesson! It helped me to remember that Dr. Bernie Seigel, the author of many books about those facing life threatening diseases, always lauds the miraculous ability of laughter in the process of healing.  In recent years, a new kind of yoga has emerged.  It is called Laughter Yoga.  It encourages childlike playfulness (who wouldn’t like a return to this?) that results in bursts of natural laughter. It was begun in India by a medical doctor, Madan Kataria, seeking to learn if cancer patients who laughed (in this special class he invented) would be more likely to heal.  Proof was shown and, today, Laughter Yoga is circling the globe.

What about you?  Are you weighted down with so many serious responsibilities that there is no time to laugh?  Give yourself permission!  Let’s call it a prescription for good health and happiness.  The doctor orders that you prioritize laughter!  Here are some ideas:

  • Watch a funny movie.  Maybe something you have seen before or a new one.  Pick one that makes you laugh out loud.
  • Hang out with a friend with whom you can share some funny times, someone who makes you laugh and encourages this lightness within you. If you can’t see someone in person, call them on the telephone.  I have some friends who share my ludicrous and silly sense of humor and I always feel so much happier after talking with them. No one else understands our merriment, but we do.
  • Choose a book of cartoons or humorous writing.  I have favorites around the house.  The Far Side still makes me laugh and a big coffee table book of cartoons of The New Yorker is guaranteed to evoke humor, though not the same as the sillier books I have.
  • Remember moments in the past when you laughed uncontrollably.  You know the kind of laughter that can’t be suppressed but bubbles over. I have many to draw from.
  • Check out TV series, even old ones. We have the complete set of the Monty Python series.  One look at the “silly walks” and I will be laughing.
  • Seek out original and novel ways to laugh.  Put it on your schedule as a priority.

Remember that it is up to you to choose your form of humor.  Let it spring directly from your heart and soul.  Let it sustain you.  See how much lighter and happier your life will become — and how much healthier you will be, as a special side benefit.  I’m not kidding!

With love and namaste, Deanne

For more, go to http://www.deannemincer.com

The 52: Lesson Thirty-Eight — Well, Just How Pure Are You?

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butterflyblueskyWhat a challenge!  Can we be “pure” in body, mind, spirit, thoughts, and words?  What if you think you have accomplished one of them and then you have a little “slip?”  Say, you eat only raw foods, but you go to a banquet and have something else?  Or you promise yourself you will only have pure thoughts, then anger arises?  What then?  Is it time to go back to the last lesson — on forgiveness?

Purification is spoken about in many spiritual disciplines.  In yoga, it is called, in Sanskrit, saucha, and refers to purification on many levels — in body, mind and heart, in thought and action.  Saucha is the first of the niyamas or observances that make up a part of the Yoga Sutras, the comprehensive and reliable path as laid out by the yoga sage, Patanjali.  This eight fold or eight limbed guide is thoughtful and as relevent today as it was at the time it was written.  I like to think of sutras as guidelines.  If we are too rigid, we (and the ego) might use them as a means to beat ourselves up , to judge ourselves and others.  That would, from my viewpoint, defeat the whole idea that we are loved unconditionally, right now, just as we are.

LESSON THIRTY-EIGHT

SAUCHA — PURITY

When I was fairly new to yoga and its teachings, I took very seriously the idea of purification of the body.  I was learning to be a teacher of hatha yoga and understood very well how two of the “limbs” of classic yoga  were effective for the body — asana (the postures or poses of yoga), and pranayama (breath work).  Simply expressed, the poses are effective in purifying the physical body as well as the energy system, the nadis and the chakras.  The breathing practices help cleanse and purify by moving oxygen and prana through the body.  Of course, the mind and spirit benefit as well.

In addition to these forms of purification, there were others that I embraced.  They were things like weekly fasting on water and juices, cleansing through daily use (which I still do every morning) by using the neti pot and sending water through both nostrils and out, eye asanas to cleanse the eyes, and various and sundry other cleansings.  I can still hear the gasps from my yoga students when I describe the “string” neti, pulling sterile string through the nose and out the mouth, and, even more loud gasps, fasting then inducing vomiting (we called it purging) to empty the stomach of mucus and old contents.  Well, let’s just say, without going into some even more shocking methods, ,you could spend a lot of time on cleansing the body.  I sure felt clean but I’m not sure I was doing the big time, real purifications I needed — like purifying the mind and thought and heart.

Of course, I tended to want pure and fresh foods, eaten with intention and reverence.  My diet styles shifted and changed.  I had jars of sprouts growing and ground my flax seeds and balanced non animal proteins and felt quite virtuous and a little smug too.  Wasn’t I just being so pure?  In point of fact, wasn’t I just deceiving myself?  Every morning, before I began my formal meditation, my mind wandered through all the yamas and niyamas, giving myself a kind of check list of how I was faring on the spiritual path of yoga. Did I notice that, while I thought I scored high on some measures,  I still lacked forgiveness.  I was harsh in my  judgment of others and myself.  I only understood the baby steps of these concepts.  I had a long way to go…

Only when the purification REALLY began to happen, in my mind and heart, in actions and thoughts, did I know for sure I was actually doing something transformational.

Here are a few ideas to consider.  For some they are baby steps.  For others, they may be old hat.  It never hurts to be a beginner again.

  • Look at your body.  Is there something you can do today to help to purify and nurture your body?  Maybe you will drink some glasses of pure clean water or have a cup of green tea.  Perhaps you will do some yoga stretches or take a walk outside.  How about not eating that hot dog loaded with additives?  You may wish to speak to your body about how much you appreciate it.  Whatever you choose, let it be filled with love and pleasure.
  • Try changing your attitude towards something that is routine, like vacuuming the rug or taking out the trash. Think of it as purifying and cleansing.  Imbue it with positive energy.  Cleaning out a closet could be like this.  Or taking away clothing you no longer wear and giving it to others who would appreciate those garments.
  • Take a moment to see how you are thinking.  Clean up the “closet” of your thoughts? Like getting rid of complaining and negativity, judging and arguing.  You might even consider a little silence, giving your mind a chance to rest and be quiet.  Or you could meditate for a bit of time or extend you meditation.

Ultimately, the following  are the words I like best.  I could not find the attribution, so I am not sure who made this point, but, nonetheless:

The only “dirt” is Avidya, ignorance of the True Self.

When you know who you are and that you are Divine Light and Love, your heart sings, and everything else is window dressing.

With love and namaste, Deanne

For more writings and on the Yoga Sutras, go to http://www.deannemincer.com

The 52: Lesson Thirty Five — Simplify Your Life with Non-Possessiveness

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butterflyblueskyAPARIGRAHA

Never heard of this word?  Unless you are a student of yoga, that is likely so. Yet, as one of the many layers or limbs we study  to bring our life into a place of peace — something classic yoga does very well — it is an extraordinary practice to know.

Aparigraha is a Sanskrit word that is defined as non-possessiveness.  Grouped with the many other yamas which we have thus far explored, it is meant to guide us as we live in the world, in our bodies, surrounded by so much that we might desire.  If you look back at the previous posts on the yamas, you will see that there is a symmetry with them.  They work hand in hand to offer points of wisdom.  With all the many objects and experiences that seem to reach out to us, from all directions, it is a relief to know how to let go of them.

Bear in mind that this does not mean that the goal is to live in a cave, without possessions, engulfed in full-time meditation (which some, in fact, do choose).  It means to live in a non-grasping, greedless, non attached state.  We can certainly enjoy all the benefits that the world offers yet remain apart from them and not needing them to define us.

LESSON THIRTY FIVE

NON-POSSESSIVENESS

The renowned yoga master and teacher, B.K.S Iyengar, wrote this:

By the observance of aparigraha, the yogi makes his life as simple as possible

and trains his mind not to feel the loss or lack of anything.

Then everything he needs is welcome to him by itself at the proper time.

I admit that this is a practice that has posed great challenges for me.  While it is easy for me to be mostly detached from items of luxury and status, I have in many times of my life been attached to experiences like traveling all around the world, sampling the foods from the most new and trendy restaurants, developing a familiarity with the arts on many levels — going to museums and symphonies and films.  It took a long time for me to recognize that I was chasing my tail.  There would always be another exotic location to see, another restaurant to try, another movie to view.  I slowly began to recognize how futile it was to keep trying to be “in the know.”  I began to that it was the game of the ego.

But that is not all!  I do not part with memorabilia easily.  I have yet to clean out all those boxes in my attic, even though I have not looked in many of them for years.  I am a perfect candidate for taking a course in simplicity of possessions.  And books are my greatest attachment!  I need to wear blinders when I walk into a bookstore.  At least I can see some humor in these traits and do not ever use this as a means for self-criticism.  All that “stuff” is there, and I tell myself, I live in simple ways on other levels.

As I believe that everything is part of Divine Consciousness, even those musty boxes, and that everything unfolds with purpose and at just the right time, I take it easy on myself.  Enjoying my life without attachment, I say.

So I write these words for myself:

  • What are you capable of releasing and letting go?  What would happen if you did not own this or did not do that?
  • Can you fully appreciate and care deeply for what you have in your life, while “packing”  lightly?
  • Is it possible to imagine how much freedom you have when you are not in the throws of desires and perceived needs?
  • Try this:  When you are on the verge of something to purchase, take a few breaths and see if the desire (which may be emanating from the ego) will begin to detach.
  • Do you know when you are clinging to something?
  • Finally, whatever your answers on all of this, it matters that you still experience kindness and unconditional love for yourself. Always!

This is really all about letting our lives become more simple and peaceful and learning how to truly enjoy what we have in a way that shines with the Light of Truth.

Now, I think I better start unpacking those boxes in the attic today.  Oh, there is time tomorrow… (That’s just a little bit of a joke.)

With love and namaste, Deanne

For more writings, go to http://www.deannemincer.com

The 52: Lesson Thirty Two — Can Your Breathing Heal Your Body?

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butterflyblueskyThich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk observed:

Breathing in, I calm body and mind.  Breathing out, I smile.

Dwelling in the present moment. I know this is the only moment.

Do you think it is important to calm the body and mind?  Do you think doing this and paying attention to your breath can actually, tangibly change your mental and physical health?

For most of us, breathing is just second nature.  We are born and we breathe.  We breathe everyday until we take our last breath and then we don’t breathe anymore.  With that last breath, our body, deprived of oxygen (and the life force), has lost its support system.  It “dies.”

Improper breathing is a common cause of ill health.

Andrew Weil, M. D.

Are you ready to take charge of your breathing, your body, your mind?

LESSON THIRTY TWO

BREATH AND THE BODY

This is not the first lesson in The 52 that has been devoted to the breath.  How we breathe is so important that many of us spend a life time learning the subtle nature of the breath.  The more we know about it, the more we observe how its functioning alters our health, how we think and how we feel.

Take the body first:  If you asked most people, they would tell you that they want a strong and healthy body, one that will take them through-out their lives without illness.  We may say this but do we do what is needed?  Setting aside the obvious — those who smoke or use their nose to knowingly inhale toxic substances — we forget that disease has a step up in a body deprived of oxygen.  Of course we know about lung diseases, but what about cell deprivation in all the cells of your body?  What if you never fully breathe? What if you breathe the wrong way?  What if you voluntarily stop breathing as a habit.

Does the health of your body matter enough to you to spend a little time learning to breathe?

You can learn to improve your breathing.  Try this:

  • Are you breathing all the way down into your belly? Or is your breath up there, high in the chest? Consciously, make yourself breathe more deeply, into the belly.
  • Is the breath fast and choppy instead of slow and steady?  You want it to be long and smooth.  Work on it!
  • Do you stop breathing?  When you do certain things or think certain thoughts or move your body certain ways?  Don’t stop breathing!  Keep it going.  When you “hold” your breath you deprive it of oxygen and throw off the rhythm.  Maybe you are “holding off” your life.
  • Don’t just check your breathing once or twice a day.  Do it a lot.  Give yourself some kind of reminder, a signal, something you see or hear and, each time, you are reminded to check your breath.  It isn’t a chore and won’t take much time.  Just do it!
  • Each time you breathe, take it as a blessing.  Breathe in love, clarity, good health, kindness, and breathe out illness, weakness, anger (or anything you want removed.

My favorite poet, the Sufi master of Divine Love, Rumi, wrote:

There is a way of breathing that’s a shame and a suffocation

And there’s a way of expiring, a love breath,

That lets you open infinitely.

What about you?  Would you like your simple breathing to change the quality of your life?  You have the power, you know!

With love and namaste, Deanne

For more, go to http://www.deannemincer.com

The 52: Lesson Twenty Eight — What Do Your Senses Tell You?

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Have you any idea how profound the sense of smell and taste can bebutterflybluesky?  Consider this:  When there are bad odors in the air, people drive very aggressively and car accidents increase in number.   Did you realize that, for most of us, when we are exposed to the scent of lavender, we experience a feeling of peace and calm.  Examples are numerous!

Did you know that the sense of smell is 10,000 times more sensitive than any of the other senses and that the response is immediate.  It goes straight to the place where emotion and memory is held.

So watch what you are breathing — and tasting…

In yoga, we learn to examine the world around us so that we better understand how we are internally influenced.  This is done in many ways, but, ultimately, we come to recognize that the “play” of the world does not define us.  We come to know who we are as beings of Light and Love,  but this is usually a process and does not happen overnight, even if we have recognized glimpses of Truth in an instantaneous fashion. Most of us need some help along the way, often in the form of lessons and steps.

The Eight Fold Path of Yoga is a complete system to bring us to awareness.  In this lesson, today, we complete one part of it.  It is called pratyahara. It is about learning to control the senses so that we can better focus on our True Self.  We need to first understand the subtle influence the senses have on us, how to work with them, and use them to enhance our lightness, happiness, and joy in living. We have already spent some time with the senses of sight, sound, and touch (in Lessons 7, 14, and 21, if you care to review).   Now we give attention to the remaining and more subtle two senses — smell and taste.  They are surprisingly powerful and may influence you much more than you might expect.

LESSON TWENTY EIGHT

THE SENSES OF SMELL AND TASTE

Whenever I smell cookies baking, I am back in my mother’s kitchen at Christmastime, seeing her open the oven, removing the cookies and placing them out to cool a little so that I can taste one while it is still warm.  Anytime I smell a fresh tomato, I remember picking them from my father’s large vegetable garden, of his explaining about ripe tomatoes, taking them into the house and eating them right away.  The scent of lavender reminds me to be calm and restful.  The smell of peppermint, even in the peppermint soap I sometimes use, energizes and lifts my spirit.  Whenever I have a taste of chili con carne, it is football season in my mind. The roses I just picked from my garden always brings a feeling of love, romance, and beauty. Some say that when you smell roses, Mary, the mother of Jesus, is near.

What about you?  What scents and tastes brings memories rushing into your awareness?

If the sense of smell were not so important, we would not have access to thousands of perfumes and colognes, to deodorant and breath mints and even Odor Eaters.  We are a smelling population.

I have grouped together the sense of smell and taste because they are closely aligned.    Have you ever noticed that your enjoyment of food may decline if you have a cold and stuffy nose.  Smell and taste work together.  Smell is known to be the most powerful and primitive of the senses.  It attaches to memory and emotion in a way that the others may not.  It bypasses thought process and brings memory alive. It is the only sense that moves directly into the brain (the hippocampus and amygdala) through the limbic system and bypasses routine thought evaluation.  Imagine the power!  If one loses the sense of smell, usually appetite declines and food “taste” is different.

Because these two senses are so tied to memory, emotion, and survival, here are a few ways to become more keenly aware of their influence:

  • Make a list (in your mind if you like) of those fragrances and foods you find pleasing.
  • When you respond in  negative manner to either sense or taste, take note.  Is a memory being tripped?  Can you find a way to avoid the experience?  Can your learn something of value from it?
  • If you know your mood and sense of enjoyment in life is enhanced by certain smells and tastes, consciously make them a habit .
  • If your routine requires that you be around smells and tastes that are unpleasant, how might you adjust your reaction to remain in a state of equilibrium and at ease.
  • Can you see that none of these senses actually alter who you are, at the core of your being? Yet they can enhance your life.

I remember hearing a story many years ago about a group of followers of a certain esteemed guru who took them on a “conscious” walk.  Their mission was to see everything as part of Divine Consciousness, of God.  As they strolled along the street, a bus passed them, emitting a black cloud of noxious exhaust.  Everyone reacted, finding it repulsive, harmful to the environment, irresponsible of the driver — except the guru.  She reminded them calmly that everything is part of the Divine  — even that.

So let all of your senses bask in Divine Light, even as you bring more knowledge of the senses into your everyday life.

With love and namaste, Deanne

For more, go to http://www.deannemincer.com

The 52: Lesson Five — More on the Breath and How it Can Change Your Life

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butterflybluesky

Here is a life-changing story!

One of my yoga students told me this story years ago.  She had taken classes from me for a long time.  She was aware of the power of the breath and how to effectively use the breath in life situations.  What she told me illustrates just how valuable it is to know how to breathe properly.

She received a telephone call and was told that her husband was in the hospital.  He was in serious condition, perhaps having suffered a stroke.  She rushed to the hospital emergency center.  As she entered the building, where there were two sets of doors, she walked through the first automatic door and was about to go through the next door.  She stopped herself.  She knew she was panicking.  She remembered our lessons about the fight/flight response and how you can control this through your breathing.  She knew that, if she didn’t do something right away, she would next be seeing her husband.  He would know that she was frightened.  Her mind would not be able to function in a methodical, calm way in order to make the right decisions for him.

Here’s what she did:  She consciously checked her breathing.  It was high in her chest (fight/flight breathing).  She made it deeper and moved it into her belly.  Then she slowed and smoothed out the breath.  In moments, she brought her breath and herself under control.  By the time she entered through the second set of doors, she was calm enough to handle whatever she would encounter.

Now that’s a skill worth knowing.  See how powerful the breath can be!

How are you breathing right now?

With love and namaste, Deanne

For more, go to www.deannemincer.com