living from the neck up…

My trip to India in December was a profound experience on pretty much EVERY level.  To this day, the degree to which I was touched and changed continues to land deep within me.  In other words, it’s marinating and the lessons are still revealing themselves.

I’ve traveled quite a bit in my life and I’ve even lived abroad for periods of time.  But, this trip felt very different.  It was emotionally charged and came at an interesting time in my life…when things have never felt quite so settled, happy and fortified.  I’ve lived in my home for nearly twelve years.  I married the love of my life and every day with that guy gets better and better.  I’m engaged in work that lights me up, challenges me daily and I’m surrounded by a community of people who inspire the hell out of me.

I feel safe and at home in my life.

Now doesn’t that seem like the PERFECT time to give things a little shake up!?!

Rather than packing up at Christmastime to head to Phoenix with Michael like we do every year, we parted ways at PDX…he was off to AZ and I would land – in 38 hours – in Goa, India.

The moment I touched down in Delhi, I felt a sense of vulnerability.  Not from the perspective of being unsafe in a foreign country but it just felt like I was MORE exposed to the raw elements of life and the world.  I felt uncovered, like it was the sunniest day EVER and I had newborn skin.  Plus, I was directly in the path of the rays of the sun and wearing no sunscreen.  I felt temporarily unprotected with the potential for a burn.  Again, it had nothing to do with the country or the element of distant travel.  I came to realize quickly, that It had everything to do with leaving the many comforts of home that I’d carefully surrounded myself with for last dozen years.

After years of creating the safe, sweet, somewhat insulated and rooted existence in Portland, I flew to the other side of the world, extracted myself from all the things that make me feel secure and established.  I was separated from my constant companions, my touch-stones and my reality meters!  I was without my community, my familiarities, my roles and all the many things that identify me.  There was a shift in all of my personal routines, habits, and rituals.  Also, I was flyin’ totally solo; I knew no one there and no one there knew me.

All of my comforts were gone.

All of those things that falsely allow me to feel as though I am in some way controlling my experiences.

 

On my first couple days in India, things were frenetic.  I was disconnected from myself and not at all grounded into the realities that surrounded me.  This might have been sprinkled with some jet-lag, but it was as though I never fully touched down and my feet were still floating slightly above the earth. I felt airy and fragmented.  My thoughts and emotions were all over the place.  Anxiety was high.

I was completely up in my head.

Have you ever caught yourself in moments like this?

Where you are so in your head that it’s as if you don’t even have a body?!

 

When feeling uprooted, I immediately craved the reestablishment of roots through connecting with people and through the surrounding spaces.  I had this sense of wanting things to feel comfortable again and safe like at home.  I wanted to find gentle places to land, to root in and stave off this feeling of groundlessness.

I was scared.  And, I wanted control.

 

But, rather than seeking strength and grounding from within, I was looking for fortification from outside sources.

It’s crucial for all of us to find a practice that will help us have a direct relationship with groundlessness, with impermanence and death—a practice that will enable us to touch in with the transitoriness of our thoughts, our emotions, our car, our shoes, the paint job on our house.

We can get used to the fleeting quality of life in a natural, gentle, even joyful way, by watching the seasons change, watching day turning to night, watching children grow up, watching sand castles dissolve back into the sea. But if we don’t find some way to make friends with groundlessness and the ever-changing energy of life, then we’ll always be struggling to find stability in a shifting world.  -Pema Chödrön

In those anxiety-ridden moments in India, I was not connected to my body.

What does that even MEAN?  

It means being present in your physical form, being connected with the earth, with what’s real, allowing yourself to feel centered and balanced no matter what’s swirling around you.

It means actually inhabiting your body.

In every moment the body is speaking to us.  But if you’re anything like me, you also have deafeningly loud thoughts that drown out the voice of the body.  If we do not listen to and feel the body’s messages then we’re missing a huge part of life.

A couple days in, I began to reconnect with ritual and daily practices.  Then, I remembered who I was underneath the swirling of the world, of my circumstances, of the new people, places, experiences…

Here are some of the powerful tools that brought me

BACK HOME TO MY BODY! 

Dinacharya: The Art of a Daily Routine

Doing all of these rituals was so, so powerful but they took quite some TIME!  Consider picking 2 or 3 that resonate?

During my time in India, my daily routine included:

– Upon awakening, sit up in bed, put bare feet to the floor.  Before grabbing for the smartphone, turning on the light, etc…stay with eyes closed and simply breathe there for a period of time.  * Sometimes just following this morning pause, I would take a moment to journal any thoughts I was having or any remembered dreams.

– Splash cold water on my face.

– Do Abhyanga or self-massage with oil. I used tri-doshic balancing oil.  A daily Abhyanga practice restores the balance of the doshas and enhances well-being and longevity.  It’s pretty simple. 🙂

– Put about ¼-½ cup oil in an 8 oz. squeeze bottle. …

– Place the bottle of oil in a pan of hot water until the oil is pleasantly warm.

– Sit or stand comfortably in a warm room, on a towel that you don’t mind ruining with oil accumulation. …

Apply oil generously to your entire body!  AAAAAAHHHH. 🙂

Oil pulling with coconut oil.

Tongue scraping.

– I am sorry, but I loathe the neti pot.  I have tried and tried to embrace it but I have a thing with feeling like I’m drowning (since I almost did as a child!)…someday perhaps, for now, I SKIP THE NETI POT.

Then on to:

Ginger lemon tea.  YUM.  Boosts immune, aids in digestion, and tastes delicious.

By now it’s 6am and time for:

Meditation (30-45min) – as one of my teachers points out, meditation is simply what happens while sitting with the intention to meditate.  Phew.  Pressures off.

Pranayama, Asana, a little chantin’!

Honestly, I should know after all these years that just a few Sun Salutes would have helped ground me.  But, in all the craziness, travel, new places and people, scooters and cows, I was overwhelmed, had some social anxieties percolating and I was in full reaction mode.

 So…on Day Two and the days to follow, I went ALL IN for FULL fortification and grounding!

How do you find grounding when the roots are pulled out from the earth beneath you?

How do you reconnect with what is real?

What are the practices you utilize to remain present and in your body?

Don’t have time for all of the above?  Most of us don’t.  

What about 9 sun salutes with prostration?  Ok, even 3 helps!  Here’s a grainy little youtube vid for reference!  Do as many as you need!  Find what works for you.  Make it manageable.  But, you will not regret it.

One of the most important lessons I’ve been reminded of through this process is that “pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.”  I was suffering when I looked outside of myself for solutions to fear, doubt and anxiety.  I created suffering by attaching to external comforts rather than finding fortification from within.  I was trying to control the uncontrollable.  I was labeling my sensations as good ones and bad ones.  I was attaching to the good ones and wanting to resist or push away those that felt uncomfortable.

To paraphrase Tara Brach, when you see and feel the sensations you are experiencing simply as sensations you may notice that these thoughts about the sensations are not really useful to you in that moment and that they can actually make things a lot worse than they need to be!

Pause.  Notice.  Accept.  Surrender.  It’s gonna be ok.

Once I was able to ground in, I could then truly experience things from a new lens…that powerful lens of mindfulness and compassion.  I connected with the most amazing people.  I connected more fully with myself.  I began to truly embrace each moment as it unfolded.

If you haven’t done something like this lately, something that rattles your cage a bit, start plannin’!  You don’t have to go all the way to India but get out of your norms.  Step outside of your comfort zone.  Do things differently. Do something that scares you.

It will awaken sleeping parts of yourself and remind you to

INHABIT YOUR BODY.


(From Pages 123-127, Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach)

Guided Meditation:  Developing an Embodied Presence

A mindful body scan is a valuable pathway to embodied presence.


Sitting comfortably, close your eyes and take several long, deep breaths.  Then rest in the natural flow of your breath and allow your body and mind to begin to settle.

With a relaxed, open awareness, now begin a gradual and thorough scan of your entire body.  Place your attention at the top of your head and without looking for anything in particular, feel the sensations there.  Then letting your attention move down, feel the sensations on the back of your head, on either side of your head, through your ears.  Notice the sensations through your forehead, eyes, nose, cheeks, jaw and mouth.  Be as slow and thorough as you like.

As you continue the scan, be careful not to use your eyes to direct your attention.  (This will only create tension.)  Rather, connect directly with sensations by feeling the body from within the body.  In certain parts of the body it is common to feel numbness or for there to be no noticeable sensations.  Let your attention remain in those areas for a few moments in a relaxed and easeful way.  You may find that as your attention deepens, when you revisit these places, you become increasingly aware of sensations.

Images or thoughts will naturally arise.  Notice them passing through and gently return your attention to the sensations.  Let your intention be to release all ideas and experience your physical aliveness exactly as it is.

Place your attention on the area of your neck and throat, noticing without judgment whatever sensations you feel.  Be aware of each of your shoulders from the inside.  Then let your attention move slowly down your arms, feeling the sensations and aliveness there.  Bring awareness to your hands making sure they are resting in an easy and effortless way.  Feel each finger from the inside, the palms, the back of the hands – noticing tingling, pulsing, pressure, warmth or cold.  Arrive in the life of your body.

Now place your awareness on your chest, exploring the sensations in that whole area.  Slowly allow your awareness to sink down into your stomach.  With a soft, receptive awareness, take some moments to feel the sensations in your abdomen.

Place your attention on your upper back, feeling the sensations in the area around your shoulder blades.  Moving down, be aware of the mid- and lower back, and then the entire spinal column.  Continuing to let awareness sweep down the body, feel the sensations that arise through the hips, buttocks, genitals. What are the actual sensations that are arising?  Move slowly down through the legs, feeling them from within.  Explore the sensations in your feet and toes.  At the places where your body touches the chair, cushion or floor, feel the sensations of contact, pressure and temperature.

Now open your attention to include your body in a comprehensive way.  Be aware of the body as a field of changing sensations.  Can you sense the subtle energy field that vitalizes and gives life to every cell, every organ in your body?  Is there anything in your experience that is solid, unmoving?  Is there any center or boundary to the field of sensation?  Is there any solid self you can locate that possesses these sensations?  What or who is aware of experience?

As you rest in awareness of your whole body, if particular sensations call your attention, bring a soft and allowing attention to them.  Don’t manage or manipulate your experience, don’t grasp or push anything away.  Simply open to the changing dance of sensations, feeling your life from the inside out.  If no particular sensations call your attention, remain open to feeling energy simultaneously in all parts of the body.

If thoughts carry your attention away, gently note, “Thinking, thinking,” and then reconnect with the energetic field of aliveness.  Rest in this awareness of your living being, letting life live through you.

The body scan from head to feet or feet to head can be repeated over and over during a single meditation sitting.  You might do a full scan, rest in attention of the whole body for a few minutes, and then scan again.  You might do an initial scan slowly and then subsequent scans more quickly.  You might choose to scan once, and then continue to practice by attending to predominant sensations and, whenever possible, the whole field of bodily sensations.  Experiment and find out what most helps you in sustaining a relaxed and wakeful presence in your body.

In daily life, return to the experience of your body as often as possible.  You can readily arrive in your body by relaxing and softening through your shoulders, hands and belly.  As you move through the various circumstances of your day, notice what sensations arise in your body.  What happens when you feel angry?  When you are stressed and racing against time?  When you feel criticized or insulted by someone?  When you feel excited or happy?  Pay particular attention to the difference between being inside thoughts and awakening again to the immediate experience of sensations.

__________________________

Guided Meditation:  Radical Acceptance of Pain

We cultivate Radical Acceptance of pain by relaxing our resistance to unpleasant sensations and meeting them with non-reactive awareness.  This exercise is especially useful if you are presently distressed by physical pain.

____________

Find a comfortable position, sitting or lying down.  Take a few moments to become still, relaxing with the natural rhythm of the breath.  Gently scan through your body, relaxing your brow and jaw, dropping your shoulders and softening through your hands.  Try not to create any unnecessary tension in the body.

Where is the area of strong discomfort or pain that calls your attention?  Bring a receptive attention directly to the unpleasant sensations in that part of your body.  Notice what happens as you begin to be present with this pain.  Is there an attempt, however subtle, to push the pain away?  To cut it off, block it off, pull away?  Is there fear? You might notice how the body and mind clench like a fist in an attempt to resist pain.  Let your intention be to remain present, allowing the unpleasant sensations to be as they are.

Soften any reaction against the pain, allowing the fist of resistance to unclench and open.  The more you can connect with open and spacious awareness, the more you will be able to be present with sensations and allow them to unfold naturally.  Experience your awareness as the soft space that surrounds the pain and allow the unpleasant sensations to float in this awareness.

Resting in this openness, now bring a more precise attention to the changing sensations in the area of pain.  What is the experience actually like?   Do you feel burning, aching, twisting, throbbing, tearing, stabbing?  Does the pain feel like a knot, a constricting band?  Does the area feel as if it is being pressed down or crushed by a great weight?  Are the unpleasant sensations diffuse or focused in their intensity?  How do they change as you observe them?  Investigate with a nonreactive, soft attention.  Allow the sensations you may feel as a solid block of pain to unfold and move in their natural dance of change.

 When resistance arises, relax again, reestablishing a sense of openness.  Be aware of your entire body, including the areas that aren’t painful.  Let the body become like open space, with plenty of room for unpleasant sensations to arise and dissolve, fade and intensify, move and change.  No holding, no tension.  Inhabit the sea of awareness, and let any painful sensations float in an accepting openness.

  Try not to judge yourself for reacting when pain feels like “just too much.”  Take care of yourself in whatever way provides ease and comfort.  Over time if you practice mindful presence of pain for even a few moments at a time, equanimity will increase.  You will be able to more readily let go of resistance and open to unpleasant sensations.

____________

Thank you for continuing this journey of Radical Acceptance.

I truly hope it is having a positive impact on your life.

* lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu *


Elevate Yoga 200-Hour Teacher Training Program 
is accepting applications for the Fall 2016 session.
Space is limited to 18.
We begin October 5th!  Join us!

“There’s nothing else like Elevate Yoga Trainings in the country and I was so privileged to share the afternoon with Jill and the Elevate participants!  Sometimes we forget that teaching yoga is a powerful journey that gives us the opportunity to reach people really, really deeply.  Each class, each student, each moment counts.  Of course that is easily forgotten when we are teaching the 3rd class of the day and the 18th class of the week.  Thus the power of Jill Knouse, Elevate, and staying connected.”
David Romanelli – Yeah Dave!

Have you considered immersing yourself more deeply in the beautiful practices of yoga?

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QUESTIONS?
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“Elevate has been one of the most powerful things I’ve done for myself. It has cracked me open on so many important levels, while providing the structure and support to lovingly support me along the way. Jill’s journal assignments have been masterfully crafted and sequenced – you will find your edges, and that’s where the good stuff happens!

I had the pleasure of experiencing a one-on-one session with Jill. I haven’t met anyone as giving of themselves, their time, and their knowledge – an amazing opportunity to access all of her experience in a focused, personalized setting with that special Jill-style-love. Having found a like-minded group of travelers on this Elevate journey has been a wonderful addition to my world.”

-Danika Sandoz

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