The following article was originally published in my column, “Actualizing Your Yoga” in 2009. I hope you enjoy it. – FEN
Staying Contented in the Face of Challenges
by Françoise Netter
Welcome again. In the last column, we spoke about Hatha Yoga. Did you take time to explore the benefits of a physical practice? Although I promised to explore the subjects of meditation and pranayama (breathing techniques), I also want to share an experience I had recently which encapsulates for me the real meaning of “actualizing one’s yoga”.
Throughout our lives all of us will experience numerous challenging circumstances. While what might bring one person to “his or her knees” might not faze someone else, the point is, we all are tested individually. I remember spending time with an architect in Arizona who had studied under Frank Lloyd Wright and during one stirring conversation he shared, “Françoise, no matter what our race, outer privileges or financial state, we will all experience a certain amount of suffering while alive, there is no exception.” I remember pondering that statement from both a yogic point of view as well as from a Western perspective.
By most standards, I had a difficult childhood both emotionally as well as physically and became self-supporting at the age of 16. Luckily, my difficulties turned me inward to explore states of consciousness that would give me the peace and control that didn’t seem to be there in my external circumstances. But I, too, was sometimes seduced by the external world and wondered what if I had everything I wanted? You know, the relationship, money, fame, etc? Wouldn’t life be more sheltered then? Wouldn’t that shield me from some of the pain?
We see examples of people seeking that kind of shelter everyday and everywhere, especially with the inundation of Reality TV. But does it really bring the deeper solace, I believe, we all are seeking? Can it prevent the experiences of fear, loss and hurt?
I recently had the “opportunity” to be audited by the IRS. It wasn’t so much about me, as it was about my tax accountant who was the “project”, but I became the focus of their investigation. For me, it was not only the time, energy and money to sort through records and piles of receipts for something that I did not even cause, but it also brought up every fear and “victim” consciousness feeling I had stored in my subconscious. What do we do when we are faced with those things that we are either afraid of or that we just don’t enjoy doing? That we seemingly don’t have any control over?
As I sit writing this column, my cat, Bhakti, sits on my lap purring. She reminds me of that simple state of bliss and I am always amazed at her unconditional ability to forgive. She may hear a sound that frightens her or jump instinctively at an object, but she always seems to return to this contented state. It is this state of inner contentment that the Yogis summon us towards. When I teach my seminars, individuals always ask me for techniques to reduce the stress in their lives. It seems now, more then ever, that we are all being called upon to access an equanimity that is not dependant on our ever-changing world. The stability we all sought externally just doesn’t seem to be there anymore. So, what can we do?
It is in the practice of Yoga that we gain greater control over our body, emotions and mind. The practice gradually supports us in daily living and prepares us for those times when we need it most.
Pranayama (breathing techniques) is one of the most important practices in all forms of Yoga. It revitalizes the body, steadies the emotions and creates greater clarity of the mind. By practicing pranayama,, the Yogi gains control over the nervous system by bringing more oxygen to the blood and brain and thereby obtaining gradual mastery over the life force and the mind. We achieve this mastery through breathing practices which progressively deepen, balance and harmonize the breath. What is interesting to note is that the nervous system, which is divided into the autonomic nervous system and the central nervous system, coordinates the functions of all the other systems in the body. It is through pranayama that breathing, which is for the most part involuntary, is brought into conscious control. In many languages the words for breath and spirit are the same. Awareness of our breathing gives life to the postures and builds a bridge between the body, mind and spirit. To the Yogi, body, breath, nerves, mind and the universe are all connected.
Since your state of mind is reflected in the way you breathe, it follows that by controlling the breath, you can learn to control your state of mind. By regulating your breath, you are not only increasing your intake of oxygen, but also preparing yourself for the practice of concentration, meditation and control of the will.
This month, I’m going to ask you to practice “the complete breath” which engages all five lobes of the lungs and extends the breath into long, deep and wide patterns while pausing between the inhalation and exhalation. In traditional Yogic breathing, we inhale 1 count for every 2 counts of exhalation and 4 counts of retention of the breath. But, I believe the complete breath prepares us for more complex and advanced breathing techniques. Along with breathing, I am going to ask you to practice Savasana (deep relaxation). Savasana is said to be one of the most difficult poses to master. In this asana we learn how to create a profound state of relaxation while remaining aware and attentive. To enter this state, we practice letting go. First we release the effort of the physical poses and then we let go of our physical, emotional and mental tensions. This letting go allows us to release some of the trappings of the mind, and even for a moment, with what and who we identify so that we can move into the part of our Self that is beyond our problems and limitations. While still awake, we allow ourselves to rest completely. Ultimately, this pose is about learning to be in this state all the time so that we can let unimportant things and difficulties be released and live life more fully, vitally and in a state of greater mental and physical freedom. By practicing Savasana we also prepare our mind and body for meditation.
You can practice the complete breath and Savasana on your own or you can contact me and I can send you a CD with instructions and guided breathing and relaxation exercises.
In the next column, we will talk about meditation and expand on the topics of this column.
Until then, I welcome your comments and questions and invite you to practice letting go and staying contented even in the face of challenges.
“I welcome you with all my heart.”
© 2009, Françoise E. Netter, M.A.
Françoise E. Netter, M. A., President of Body/Mind Dynamics has been a teacher and conference presenter in the field of yoga, stress management, creativity development, dance, and dance therapy, for over thirty years throughout the world. She has taught at major universities, authored a book and a 200hr Yoga Teacher Training Certification Program and has been featured on television, radio, CD and video and in magazine and newspaper articles including the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, and San Jose Mercury News. She currently lives in Boulder, Colorado.
Françoise is available for private consultations and coaching as well as Keynote presentations and events and has ongoing classes, training programs, workshops and special retreats and travel workshops. Contact her at: www.bodymnddynamics.org, firstname.lastname@example.org or 303.960.6000.