“There is more to life than simply increasing its speed.” – Mahatma Gandhi
Hindu mythology tells a story about how Lord Ganesh won a race without the benefit of speed. He and his brother Kartikeya agreed to race to see who could go around the world 3 times and come back first. Kartikeya set out right away flying off swiftly on his trusty peacock, the vehicle he used for getting around the universe. He was quite sure that his little brother Ganesh didn’t have a chance of beating him. After all, Ganesh’s vehicle was a small mouse named Mushika. Ganesh considered the task at hand thoughtfully, and then he got onto Mushika and rode him slowly, with devotion, three times around his parents, Shiva and Parvati. When his parents asked what he was doing, he replied that they (Shiva and Parvati) were the whole world and so Ganesh didn’t need to go any further in order to circle the world. When Kartikeya returned on his peacock, he couldn’t help but admire his little brother’s ingenuity.
It is a lovely story. It is a story about many things, including patience, ingenuity, and discovering more than one way to “win” a race. It reminds us that going slowly can create the mental space necessary to actually remember what’s important and then do it; that slowing down is an important bridge to remembering Shiva, which is also our True Nature.
This is so necessary in parenting and spiritual practice – to slow down, to remember, to make your next move from a place of inner awareness.
It’s hard to slow down, though. There is after all a lot to do, and someone has to do it. And there is the fear that if we slow down, we might lose something – our edge, the race, our peace of mind. It is truly hard work to pause and delay the drive towards doing. It is hard to resist the urge to react. We rush ourselves. We hurry our children. We push. We may not even realize we are doing it. We feel pressure to be on time. We feel pressure to keep up. We feel pressure to meet others expectations. So much pressure. And, while it is important to be on time and to follow through with commitments to others, it’s rarely as urgent as it feels. What if we were to resist the pressure?
“Slow motion cures commotion.” – Paul Reps
What are the rewards to slowing down the pace? As a mother, just remembering to pause and breathe can turn a stressful moment around, making joy, connection and even cooperation more likely. Slowing down gives the mental space to think, “what is the next right thing to do?” This can create a nicer flow and richer results than rushing from task to task hurriedly or unconsciously. Sometimes slowing down actually helps you get to where you need to go “on time,” because relaxed children are more cooperative than stressed, rushed children. Same goes for adults.
Regular meditation practice can help with learning how and when to slow down. It gives us a structure and tools to practice slowing down and taking time to check in deeply with ourselves. In meditation, we become acquainted with our breath and its power to change our mental state. Over time we start to notice our patterns – the ways we rush ourselves or avoid our feelings, or lose our way. We create more opportunities to respond rather than react. We develop new patterns of patience, acceptance, attentiveness and surrender.
If you’re longing for the benefits of slowing down long enough to tune in to your own heart and mind, join us at Austin Big Heart Yoga for meditation, hatha yoga, and special parenting events this spring!
Hatha yoga every Thursday at 6:30 p.m.
Meditation for Mothers series begins February 3, 10:45 a.m.
Gayatri Mantra practice Tuesdays at noon
New Tween workshop February 7
When I attended a yoga teacher training at Shoshoni Yoga Retreat in 2001, I couldn’t quite understand all the focus on breathing. While I did find it helpful to breathe more deeply, and pay more attention to my breath, I wondered about the necessity of repeating this instruction over and over. I was mildly suspicious of the promise of spectacular results that could come from a simple breath. At the same time, I was very curious about how my lovely teachers had become such happy and generous people. They seemed to transmit a remarkable sense of inner ease and contentment. So, I took what I had learned, along with my doubt, and I practiced.
After thirteen years and countless conscious breaths, I am beginning to see the point a little more clearly. Great yogis have said that if you want to change the mind you change the breath. It’s really that simple. At this point in my practice, I have indeed found my breath to be a refuge, an anchor, a bridge to bliss, a way out of chaos, and a reminder of my oneness with others and the world. It is a means to soothe my child, a means to soothe myself, and a powerful tool for releasing mental and emotional tensions of all kinds. My breath can be a bridge to gratitude, love, kindness, forgiveness, openness, connection, and healing. It lives in the relationship between me and my children – in the quiet moments, the belly laughs, the tender touches, the holding of space while another cries and cries. My breath can soothe or energize me, and it can at times help me to bear what needs to be borne. It can transform anger into a force for good. It can bring me into the present moment, ready to open to whatever is coming my way. All of that and more.
So now I remind students often to pay attention to their breath, and I enjoy speaking of the possibility of spectacular results!
Join Anita Stoll or Jana Bodeman in one of our Austin Big Heart Yoga fall classes:
Monday, September 1 at 1:00 p.m. Hatha yoga, chanting, and meditation with Anita. Austin Free Day of Yoga.
Beginning September 16, Tuesdays at 9:30 a.m. or 10:45 a.m. Meditation for Mothers with Anita.
Beginning September 10. Wednesdays at 9:30 a.m. Hatha Yoga and Meditation with Jana.
Beginning September 12. Fridays at 9:30 a.m. Hatha Yoga and Meditation with Jana.
Beginning September 12. Fridays at 11:00 a.m. Guru Gita practice with Jana.
Parents feel, and there is some reality to it, that they need to be in constant motion to keep their family’s needs in balance. The never ending cycle of cooking, dishes, laundry, shuttling here and there, work, buying groceries, and managing things in general can seem overwhelming – and then there’s all the FEELINGS that parenting can bring up in us. Anticipating needs, rushing to the next thing, and feeling over scheduled and overwhelmed are common experiences in today’s world.
One thing that meditation has taught me is that when I slow down the pace internally, my whole attitude has an opportunity to shift. Sure, there are still piles of laundry, stacks of dishes, a path of toddler destruction, and Texas size roaches to be handled; but all of this seems more manageable (and/or less urgent) when I’m able to slow down my breath, notice my state, and connect to an inner sense of ease and sweetness.
Sometimes slowing down means making different choices (like limiting obligations and prioritizing self care and family time). Regardless, there will always be days, weeks, or life phases that are necessarily busy and full. At these times, it creates more stress to try and resist what’s happening. Learning to “slow down” in the midst of such busy/full times is an even more refined skill in my experience.
The yogic practices of being fully present, conscious breathing, mantra, meditation and practicing within community (sangha) are powerful tools for learning to slow down despite the speed of your life, kids, thoughts, or household critters.
In our upcoming “Meditation for Mothers: Deepening your Practice Series,” we’ll be exploring some important questions together. During the stressful times, how does one prevent becoming even more stressed? How can you find the sweet moments with your kids in the middle of the life you currently have? How do you come back to your own spiritual center, and open to your life more and more from that place? How can we integrate practice more and more into life as it already is? How do we release the worries that come with parenting?
“Be empty of worrying.
Think of who created thought!
Why do you stay in prison
When the door is so wide open?
Move outside the tangle of fear-thinking.
Live in silence.
Flow down and down in always widening rings of being.
Try this simple exercise. Upon waking (whether from an alarm, crying baby, barking dog, or because your body is rested and ready to rise), take 3-10 slow conscious breaths (it’s ok to do this en route to the crying baby, btw. Let’s keep it real). You can do this lying down or sitting on the edge of your bed. Notice how you feel – body sensations and breath quality. Feel inside for the “flavor” of ease, however big or small it may be. Now, try to take this quality of ease (felt in your body and breath) into the next few minutes of the day – whatever they are. It’s helpful to stay connected to your breath and simply focus on what you’re doing, like walking, making lunches, holding the baby, etc. (rather than being in the future or past.) You might want to put a little sign next to your bed to remind you of your intention (3 BREATHS) to help bring the experience of slow motion into the start of your day.
Hope to see some of the Austin area mamas in one of the upcoming Meditation for Mothers series!
Being a mother is so confusing. We seek to deeply attach to and bond with our children, and yet, the skill we must truly develop is the one of learning to let them go. We must learn to let go of our attachment to what they do (and don’t do) that is different from what we want or expect. And it starts early. If we are paying attention, it starts the very first time that we feel a tension about something going on with the baby. It is the task of the mother who planned a beautiful home birth and ends up with a c-section. The task of the mother who hoped for a boy and was gifted a girl. The task of the mother who settles down for a quiet moment to herself and is immediately interrupted. The task of the mother who “thought it would be different” than it is. Learning to let go (aka “surrender”) is the task of every mother who wants or plans for _____ and gets _______. And surely that is all of us.
One of the priceless gifts of Shambhava Yoga™ is the teaching of Surrender. Babaji Shambhavananda clarifies: “Surrender is a process that takes place inside of you. When fear, anger or any strong emotion arises, if you can let those feelings go, you are surrendering. In the moment when tension arises, your ability to expand beyond it and release it is surrender…”
I must say that my initial reaction to “things not turning out the way I expected” is not exactly “surrender.” It is more along the lines of aversion, an inner scream of “NOOOOOOOO!!!!” For me, this is the sort of inner reaction that can be expressed outwardly with anger or engaging in power struggles that I soon regret. Fortunately, I have a practice that is slowly but surely transforming my reactions. With breath, mantra, and a very conscious wish to let go, aversion can be transformed to acceptance of things as they are. This inner letting go creates space and an absence of tension that is hard to believe. My experience is that when I go to my practice (my breath, mantra, my intention) and really release inner tension, then my mind is free to address issues with my children more creatively. Many concerns are not as urgent as I first think, and a centered mama is a more skillful mama. And when I make a mistake, my practice helps me to release my own guilt and upset more quickly, so that I can get back to the experience of connection with myself and my child.
I had more to say, but the baby has finished her nap early. Off to practice!!!