Mindful Hatha Yoga

Impermanence in November

November is a time to let go the blooms and prepare for the somber quiet sparse beauty of winter. I remember a few weeks ago how brilliant so many trees were in my neighborhood. How much we enjoyed staring upwards and admiring the dizzying colour display of maples in October. These same trees are now bare. But in that bareness, there is a unique stark beauty. Seeing through the dense forest, my eyes can make out the lay of the land, the rocky uneven ground cluttered in dry leaves. If I stop and look I can see nests in the branches previously hidden by foliage. I can see the rays of the sun shimmering between trees, changing angles in the afternoon. There is much to see and enjoy if we slow down and really look with fresh and willing eyes.

The mind creates our experience out of the contacts we have with the objects of the world: sights & sounds, tastes and smells, touch, voices of people and their actions toward and around us. Some are pleasant and we try to make them last, even though they are fleeting. Some are down right unpleasant and we push them out of our awareness, thereby incurring a lot of stress and suffering . Needless suffering, I might add, as experiences of discomfort are receding all by themselves. But can we remember this in November?

The cold, the wind, the icy rains of November test our patience. Being with all this harsh weather tests our resilience in the face of discomfort. Can we lean in and be with whatever nature brings us? Especially now, knowing that cold will be hanging around for months to come?

Consciousness is co-created from the constant flow of episodic events and our brain making them available to our awareness. We are not in control of the ebb and flow of pleasant mixed with the unpleasant, but imagining we can control our experience, we go to great lengths orchestrating our environment in attempts to shape events to our liking. We do this in our own peculiar ways. This is the time of year I am busy searching travel sites for a warm and sunny holiday from the cold. While feeding the escape fantasy, I know that I am happiest when I can go outside and look at nature even this time of year.  So, I am cautious not to get so lost in dreaming of warm and sunny places, that I forget to look, see and feel what is here now, on these short and cold days of November.

This is a unique time of year to return to mindfulness. Each change in the outer landscape has the power to bring our awareness back to some change in our inner experience. We are reminded of the three flavours of being alive: unsatisfactoriness, impermanence and no -self.  Today, I am contemplating impermanence.

The breath I just took will never be available to me again. If we can manage to remember that letting go is already natural to us, we see that we just have to stop resisting.  This breath is on its way out, I am ready for the next one.  The dates in the calendar remind us that soon this year will have run its course and we prepare for another year of life.  Letting go what has already happened is inevitable. Yet with the colder and darker season coming upon us, this is precisely the way we are challenged, to let go what is gone and turn toward what is always abundantly available: a different, spare beauty in the landscape preparing for the dying season. A dying that is also part of life.   A dying that is necessary to make way for the new life of the coming spring.   November begins this process, of life forms receding, clearing the world for future growth.  Our invitation is to witness what is already on its way made possible by the clearing out, the emptying out, the receding of the remnants of summer.

One way to escape being caught in regret, a sense of loss, or gloominess, is to actually turn toward what is happening right now. Really savoring what is available in each moment re-kindles in us the sense of connectedness to all of life.

Andrew Oldezki writes:

“It is the radical transience of the world that makes it both tragic and beautiful, like the cherry blossoms in Japanese aesthetics. The tragedy is that nothing actually exists; it is ll passing away in the instant it is formed. The beauty is that we have the means to be aware of this, a poignancy of this tiny corner of reality.”

Someone once said about letting go: “you donʼt have to let go; you just need to stop holding on”.

I am now going to tune into a beginnerʼs mind, and walk outside with non directed, yet moment to moment awareness – open to this November Beauty – move right in and look to see what I have missed up to now. For it, too, is on its way, through moment to moment change and will soon be gone.



Neglect your body at your peril!

How would you like to feel and move, and attend to all the activities you enjoy when you are 80 years old and beyond?

When George Burns was already 90 he was asked by a journalist:  “What do you look forward to when you get up in the morning?”  He replied “That’s easy – getting up in the morning!”   But even getting out of bed can be a major effort for some of us.   If you have chronic body pain and issues, it is going to be a challenge to meet each morning with enthusiasm and start out the day with movement.  But it has been shown that the earlier in the day we challenge the body in physical activity the more the benefits for our day.  Even challenging stiff joints in the morning by slowly warming them up can be a challenge to our patience.  And then, keeping ourselves moving once we are up will take some reconditioning, if we have had years of pain and physical stiffness.

The biggest drawback to increasing our physical activity  however, is not in our aching muscles and joints.   The biggest obstacle to keeping ourselves mobile well into our mature years is our mind.  If you believe you can improve your physical stamina, your chances of doing so is many times greater than if you don’t believe you can improve stamina.   There have been documented cases of elders who have increased their aerobic fitness in their 80’s after heart attacks or other illnesses.  Many have taken up physical fitness in their later years.  One reason, of course is the availability of time and accessibility of resources.   I have a few friends who are very busy career professionals who will do a 15 minute workout once in a while,  but they say that they can not commit a half hour to an hour three times a week.  Indeed, recent research shows that intense aerobic workouts will tone the cardiovascular system and rev up metabolism to give significant benefits, such as improved blood pressure and lower heart rate.  Nevertheless, if we want to avoid muscle loss and keep the back healthy, supple and strong, we will need more than sudden bursts on an indoor bicycle.   My friends who are now 60 plus are surprised that they pull their back muscles out with sudden movements  or lifting an unexpectedly heavy object.  Why is that a surprise if you haven’t taken care of the muscles, the ligaments, tendons, joints and fascial tissues?   All of of these anatomical components work together as a musculo-skeletal system to protect you from injury when the unpredictable event requires an unexpected movement.  To keep this system running smoothly and maintain our strength, an investment in the form of some real time will be required.  Of course, we all do have this time.  What we don’t always have is the will to put in the time.  Let’s be frank, we will have to let go of something we are in the habit of doing that is less important.  Letting go will only happen if we are convinced that we will reap benefits.

How can we increase enjoyment in our lives as we mature?

All things being equal, positive outlook and persistence make the difference.   Other factors that lead to happier and more contented aging include keeping company with vibrant people, getting out of the house and spending time with people of all ages.  Stimulation of all kinds is just as important when we are a certain age as it was in our early years and mid life.  Of course, our aspirations of what we can accomplish with the body  needs a reality check.  Very few of us will be mountain climbing and sky diving after the age of 65.  But there are so many other leisure physical activities available to us that we may dismiss without  really looking into what  may make it possible to participate and enjoy those activities at “our age”.

Lucky are those who have enjoyed being in their bodies and moving them since they can remember.  Here is Maia aged 94  still doing her 15 minutes of body wake up every morning.  Such a simple routine, reminiscent of my yoga workout for my programs.  Notice that she is in the company of many generations, especially the lovely ten year old to whom she is imparting that priceless gift of passion for movement and enthusiasm for life.

Enjoy the 7 minute video and incorporate her gentle movements into your morning starting tomorrow.

I will enjoy your feed back.