It is Practical to be Spiritual

How your breath inspires conscious connection.

Strip yourself down to blind breath to get out of your own way.  By blind I mean, without preconceived beliefs and expectations that ultimately tighten your breath and take you out of the mystery and freedom of the moment. Take your preconceived definitions away and who are you?

You are raw to the bone; you are free!

Imagine your muscles surrendering their grip from your bones with each breath. The skeleton is free to align as it was designed to, without the tension of outdated beliefs and habits imposing themselves on your mind and body. To breathe life in and death out, in real  time, is a spiritual and practical journey that aligns you with who you are now, rather than with who you have been.

Conscious breathing opens up the body to receive oxygen and the mind to embrace purpose–the givers of life. Without a significant  relationship with your breath there is no significant learning that can thrust you forward into a self-fulfilling life. Instead, you repeatedly  defend your life’s has-beens. Conscious breathing invites you to question and realize that there is a transcendent perception to be  glimpsed in every moment.

Are there times you suddenly realize you hold your breath?
When do life surprises interrupt your breathing?
Are you aware your breath reacts to your emotions?
Do you use your breath deliberately to create a desired response?

It may sound grandiose to equate the simplicity of breathing with your spirituality, rather than with the intricacies of a religious testament. However, breathing is the very thing that keeps you connected to every moment. Breathing enthuses you to be  curious–curious enough to question your own ways.

CONSCIOUS BREATHING

·      Inhale. Notice your diaphragm relax and surrender outwardly. Like Buddha, fully accept what is. Let your body oxygenate and feed on the nutrients filling your bloodstream. Let your mind expand, connect, and allow for meaning, so you unite to the moment with intent to discover yourself anew.

·      Exhale. Notice your diaphragm gently contract inwardly. Like Gandhi, release all that is no longer. Let your body empty itself of that, which is exhausted of nourishment and plaguing your existence with tension. Let your mind become clear of run-on thoughts, so you are free to feel what is truly relevant for you in the moment.

Recently, Elise told me her psychotherapist advised her to meditate because she was her own worst enemy. Her negative self-talk was getting the best of her. She’s moving and leaving a job, she says, “it’s so hard to clear my mind; but this was crazy, surreal!” She focussed on steadying her inhales first, making it as full as possible, bringing in as much clean, white light as possible. Then she focussed on releasing the same amount of negativity and darkness through her exhales. She said, “My vision became clearer. I felt like I was at the beach, my breath was in sync with the ocean waves crashing at the shore line; I felt warm sunshine and clarity so easily.”

Breath brings the biology of being human together with the cosmology of our Universe; it is a physical-spiritual intersection. The study of life merges with the origin and evolution of the Cosmos. Life, as we experience it, is founded on this relationship with Creation,  making the breath of our existence a physical-spiritual union. Spirituality is not tied to religion it is tied to Creation.

WHAT NEEDS TO BREAK DOWN TO FULLY STAND UP?

Who decides how you present you?

In our effort to stand strong and straight, mentally and physically, we often project an ideal persona rather than a real person. A want-to-be persona that resembles a rooster showing its willingness to fight for dominance, prominence or survival takes over our posture. This outward display tenses our muscles, excites our nervous system and expects a response. We are taught, that this attention to posture will attract success. This is not necessarily the case.

The problem with this persona posture is that it is not connected to what is really within its silhouette. In fact, this fake-it-till-you-make-it stance can lead you further and further away from what is true for you. I am not implying that you should depress your posture when you feel depressed. What I am suggesting, however, is to lift your posture’s alignment to meet that depression, or whatever problem is surfacing; rather than ignoring what is actually happening within you and jumping over it. Though jumping over obstacles may feel like triumphing over challenge initially, it is only bypassing the problem temporarily. The problem will resurface again and again!

So what does it mean to stand strong? Is it an outward projection of what you want-to-be or an inward ownership of being you?

I am going to borrow from the military because they have recognized the power of posture. Though, I also believe their breakdown can be developed upon to include civilian lives and a more entrepreneurial mindset.

  • “At-Attention” military posture ensures strength through following another’s leadership. A soldier’s legs are together, thumbs pressed against the side seams of their trousers, fists closed. Their muscular system compresses their central line of energy, while their eyes focus past the scrutiny of their commanding officer. Abandoning one’s authentic nature, the soldier awaits orders for the protection of the greater whole.
    • This abandonment of self could be compared to your mind-body stance when addressing your boss, a job interview, or a professional/social gathering. Anytime your posture is forced because you feel beneath the person(s), task or challenge before you, this is a physical experience of aligning.
  • “At-Ease” military posture asks for strength through one’s self-discrimination. A soldier’s legs are spread, arms and fists relaxed but held behind their back. While the muscles of their limbs are at-ease, their torso remains attentive to what their rank tells them they should-be. A degree of authenticity is allowed here as eyes meet, and a relating to the truth of one’s experience or expertise is being sought after and discussed.
    • This should-be attention could be compared to your mind-body stance when at your desk addressing work-tasks, organizing your home, or on a first date. Anytime your posture is stilted because you feel you should-be a certain way, you are trying to live up to the expectations put upon you by yourself or another. This is a mental experience of aligning.
  • At-Peace–a life posture–upholds strength by allowing what is. Using the flow of energy to secure alignment, you become sensitive to misalignment. As the skeleton is prompted to align itself above and below one’s center of gravity, the muscular system becomes elongated and supple, giving the body’s central line of energy room to expand. This relaxed strength permits authenticity and personal reflection. One’s sense of self connects to their unique perspective, life purpose and self-development. Aligning oneself with personal beliefs ensues.
    • This relaxed strength could be compared to your mind-body stance when on vacation, involved in a creative project or an entrepreneurial endeavor. You are at peace with who you are being. This is a spiritual experience of aligning

Military postures are what most of us relate to as good posture, because they are physically aligned. Their unyielding rigidity in body and mind, however, when used as a life posture, are exhausting and cannot withstand time without exhausting you. Replacing your energy’s rigidity with flow, renews your relationship with yourself, to be one that is at peace.

We are all soldiers in life. Though abandoning one’s individual nature for the greater whole–to give one’s life–is viewed as upright and principled posture; I could say the same about a posture that is committed to one’s self. Breaking down the indoctrinated beliefs that it is selfish or unappreciative to believe in yourself, your differences, or your brilliance, is what truly escalates you fully into being! Self-awareness is found through a relationship with your body, mind and Spirit; and it is what makes conscious frontrunners that can lead by example.

To stand strong and straight is to know your beliefs, illuminate your resistance to living those beliefs and restore alignment, and be at peace with who you are being.

Feeling drained? A personal trainer turned Tao Minister explains why posture, not cardio, is the key to energy

The Western approach to fitness is all Yang, no Yin—we have a “no-pain-no-gain” power through it mentality. And the more drained  and stressed you feel, the more the health and fitness industry piles onto your to-do list. “To boost energy, eat this not that.” “Exercise this many times a week.” “Sleep this many hours a night.”

But in my 30 years as a personal trainer and 20 years as a Tao Minister, it’s become clear to me that the key to boosting energy isn’t doing more—it’s letting go of the things that hold you back and weigh you down. And the number one thing draining your energy is  tension.

 Culturally, we’ve confused tension with strength. You’ve been taught to brace yourself every time you’re faced with resistance—be it  mental, emotional, or physical—and to charge through. But real strength doesn’t try to overpower or overcome resistance: It meets resistance and works with it. That is relaxed strength. And until we get our bodies into optimal skeletal and muscular alignment, we will continue to waste energy on resisting gravity and just build tension. To find your real strength, start with your posture.

 

The word posture is loaded: I’m not talking about walking around with a book on your head in etiquette class or strapping yourself to a medieval rack. In truth, your posture is the blueprint of your personal history and well-being. It’s a lot like what Amy Cuddy explained in her famous TED Talk: Your body language isn’t just nonverbal communication, it has the capacity to reshape who you are and how you experience yourself.

 

The key is to think about your posture as a three dimensional relationship with gravity that starts at your core and works outward. In  acupuncture, it’s believed that there are five major energy centers in the body. If you can align these five points, and feel as rooted  toward the earth as you are stretched toward the sky, everything shifts. You’ll not only feel tension gradually release, you’ll feel  connected to a larger energy source—gravity. When your body works with gravity, not against it, you have limitless energy for  everything else.

 

Those five energy centers are your:
  • Gushing Spring Points. Located between your second and third metatarsals, supporting your second and third toes, at the
    indentation in the ball of the foot.
  • Million Dollar Point. On a woman this is the opening of the vagina and on a man this is the point between the testicles and the
    anus, placed directly between sitz bones.
  • Dan Tien. Located three finger below your navel, centered between your abdominals and back. This is your center of gravity: All movement connects through this restorative physical generator.
  • Zhong Heart Center. Positioned between nipples in the center of your chest, between sternum and spine.
  • Crown Center. The very top of your skull, positioned above the tips of your ears. This is the soft spot on a newborn baby.

 

Finding your optimal posture.
To feel rooted toward the earth:
  1. Start with your Dan Tien. Feel connected to your abdominals and visualize a widened space between your low back dimples.
  2. Center your Million Dollar Point underneath your Dan Tien, and above and between your inner ankle bones.
  3. Shift your weight over your Gushing Spring Points, and feel your sitz bones (the pointy bones in each buttock) drop through your heels.
  4. Visualize energy coming up through the Gushing Spring Points and releasing down through your heels, balancing you evenly
    through your feet.
To feel stretched toward the sky:
  1. Now, center your Zhong Heart Center above your Dan Tien.
  2. Feel your shoulder blades drop back so that your arms hang directly at your sides.
  3. Slide the Crown Center back and forth until it rests directly above your Zhong Heart Center.
  4. Visualize a widening at the base of your skull.
  5. Feel a relaxed openness stretch from your Dan Tien up through the top of your head.
    As you allow the space within you to open upwardly and downwardly, acknowledge areas that feel tight and stay with them until  they start to breathe. As you find your optimal alignment, your muscles will start to release and your bones will get to do their part in holding you up. Experience the phenomenon of letting go of hardship. And from this place, step into your true strength. Use your newfound energy to create a life you love, instead of resisting the world at large.

Resolution to Transformation!

Transformation begins with knowing where you are now and where you want to go!
I mean this in the most superficial and deep-seated ways: Whether you want to lose weight or shed the behaviors that are keeping you stuck, you have to get really clear on what’s holding you back inside and out. Because the truth is, what is within is without. Transformation is about aligning the mind and body so they work together to achieve your goal.

Your resolution may be to attract a new relationship. And you may think you’ve covered all the bases: You joined a dating service–a mental strategy–and updated your wardrobe–a physical makeover. But that’s not what I mean by alignment.

Your body is an emotional template of you. If your emotions, which live in the soft tissues of the body, are creating tension around dating, while your mind is trying to connect with a potential partner, you’re going to send mixed messages. In fact, you may falsely
appear disinterested.

To start the year on the right foot, get really honest about the underlying beliefs related to your goal or resolution—your fears,beliefs, history, and patterns. Transformation begins with knowing what beliefs are unconsciously keeping you stuck from achieving your goal.

Physical tension is your road map to finding emotional misalignment. To learn the intricacies of less accessible emotions, get really interested in areas of physical discomfort or fatigue. When tension creeps into your posture, release it through physical alignment and breath, and pay close attention to what emotions come to the surface as you release tension.

Once you are connected to the emotion, feel into it even more intimately. What is the belief that you have taken on as a reaction to this emotion? Maybe a fear of being rejected has led you to hunch your shoulders in protection. Or a fear of putting yourself out there is
causing tension in your chest.

To transform a belief, break down the tension holding it in tact. Your commitment to this unraveling needs to preside over all else:
Maintain constant ease in your posture. And when that ease breaks down, consider it your body’s invitation to explore the emotions its holding beneath the surface. Recognizing where tension exists and restoring your posture back to ease are the first steps to transforming outgrown beliefs.

Notice when your energy stops flowing. When do you feel resistant to do, say or feel something that would align you with your goal?
Realize you are reinforcing tension against creating it.

  • Recognize your resistance.
  • Realize your misaligned belief.
  • Release misaligned tension and align new beliefs with conviction.

Transformation doesn’t happen through external strategies alone, it requires internal resolve. Scouring shops for the perfect outfit is a fun and playful way to connect your unique spirit out into the world. (A world full of potential partners!) But it is in scouring your inner
road map–your emotional blueprint–that you will be inviting that world in.

Get Over the Overwhelm of the Holiday

Ah, the most wonderful time of the year. That time where that last herculean push to tie up all loose ends for the year collides with a  crazed calendar of holiday parties—burning your energy up from both ends of the proverbial candle. Then, you wrap it up with a  tension-triggered family visit and you end up feeling like a Christmas ribbon–tightly wound!

Though you enjoy the holiday hustle and bustle, your holiday spirit can be riddled with ambivalence! Ambivalence causes physical  tension and emotional stress, headaches, backaches, fatigue and an overwhelming feeling of disinterest. You want to want to–but you don’t! The stretch between professional concerns, friendship and family responsibilities exceeds your “enjoy yourself” bandwidth. You may suddenly find yourself raising a glass to good Old Mr. Scrooge (he may have been onto something)!

How do you relax and enjoy the stretch between your work, family and play?

When you feel these symptoms, rather than pushing them down, muscling through, or saying no…pause. Allow yourself to quietly and  fully feel your maxed out symptoms. It’s like luxuriating in the permission to feel bad. If you need to, lie down for a moment. The  exercise is to allow your feelings–drain their force–without letting them escalate into a verbal tirade. It sounds strange, but letting  yourself feel bad feels good! You are taking ownership of your feelings rather than blaming your feelings on someone else.

 

Once you have released the desire to hide from it all, you can respond to your desire to connect to it all. Only try it differently! This time, when you stretch yourself, use relaxed energy rather than demanding energy, and you’ll enjoy your holiday stride. Here’s how  you establish, what I call, relaxed stretch:

  • BREATHE into your low belly to connect to your center of gravity.
  • Surrender energy up through your head’s crown and down through your feet or seat. Allow your spinal column to ELONGATE by relaxing your muscles’ hold. As tension melts away from the central line of the body, it decompresses your body’s distorted alignment–it’s as if your nervous system yawns. Deliberately let your body relinquish its chase for tomorrow. Stay in the experience of stretching your energy beyond the mundane
  • Let yourself FEEL infused with your enthusiasm for living your life. Do not focus on what you do or what people want you to do, simply feel your Spirit’s connection to living your life. Stay present with the moment’s experience of surrender.

Why does this work? When you BREATHE and ELONGATE the central line of your body, that relaxed stretch aligns each of your body’s energy centers. To stretch relaxation is to allow energy to flow, to guide your life force in a specific direction without controlling its nature. It’s like drawing by number, only the numbers are energy centers that make up your central plumb line. Only when they are
all connected, energized and stretched do you see and FEEL your full potential.

Between job tasks, before arriving at a holiday gathering, and especially when preparing to head home for your holiday visit… pause. BREATH into your Center. ELONGATE your alignment. FEEL your Spirit. Step into every exchange feeling the fluid force of your strength rather than the rigid compression of your tension.

Now you’re prepared to enjoy the holidays and everyday!

Accepting Help with Grace

We live in a culture that shuns vulnerability. We cheer for the scrappy underdog who finds a way to pull herself up by her bootstraps. We value mind over matter and adulate those who can push their bodies through anything to reach their goals.

Don’t get me wrong—self-care and self-sufficiency are vital and admirable traits! But this notion that we must do it all by ourselves in order to be strong weakens us all. In fact, the idea that we are somehow capable of thriving in isolation runs counter to all of the principles that govern the universe. There is a yin and yang, a push and a pull, to every force in the universe. And if we don’t know how to receive, we waste vital energy on resistance instead of being in flow.

Your very bones are designed to work most optimally when they work with gravity, instead of resisting it. Your posture is a reflection of that relationship. When we marvel at the grace of a dancer or martial artist, we’re really marvelling at their relationship with gravity. They’re not fighting its pull. They’re not thrown off balance by its constant tug. Their grace doesn’t come fromoverpowering—it comes from accepting gravity and other universal forces’ help.

They have acknowledged gravity’s pull and are using it to power their motions. They have transformed a feeling of weight into a sense of groundedness in their bodies and a connection to the earth. They have learned to step into sync with the universe by aligning their bodies with the gravity and the unexpected tug of the world around them. They trust gravity to keep them rooted, their bones to hold them up, and the stretch of their posture toward the sky to keep them moving forward.

       Are you asking your muscles to do your bones work in holding you up?
      Are you resisting and fighting gravity, rather than working with it?
      Are you literally trying to carry the world on your shoulders?
      Are you tensing out of fear of collapse?

When we align ourselves with gravity, we learn to accept its support instead of seeing it as a burden. When we stop fighting the natural ebbs and flows of the world—and start learning to move with them—we stop experiencing life as tumultuous and step into an ease of being. And that state of grace observed in our postural relationship with gravity teaches us to work with life, instead of resisting its ups and downs.

If you think about it, grace in the face of tragedy does not come from trying to overpower the reality of the situation through sheer power of positivity—in fact, if you’ve ever seen that reaction, it’s probably made you cringe with fear that a hard fall is headed that person’s way. When we say someone has responded with grace, intuitively what we mean is, “That person has found a way to work with the fall, and as a result, will probably experience less damage.” We worry less about them, and we usually admire them all the more for it. This way of meeting challenge is what we are practicing when we meet gravity. Good posture carries an internal and external grace.
What we practice in our bodies becomes our practice in every aspect of our lives.

There is no escaping life’s pull. We can either exhaust ourselves over a lifetime by trying to change the very nature of the universe—or we can befriend it and ask it for help.

Where in your life could you use a little more grace?
How is your body asking you for help?
What would it feel like to experience true ease?

Strengthen Your Will To Align

“Live In Your Strength”

Lao Tzu

People suffer in jobs they hate? Relationships fail because they don’t work through discontent? Poor posture develops into chronic musculoskeletal disorders? It’s easy for people to believe they don’t have the time or the right or the permission to act as they would if they could? These are a few examples of misalignment—deviating from your true nature—and it interferes with your ability to stand in your strength.

The result of misalignment is physical tension, emotional disinterest, and mental exhaustion. And when unchanged, perpetuates fear based beliefs and causes reactive behavior. It cripples your instinct to live in your strength! Misalignment is a mind, body, Spirit breakdown; just as, strength is a mind, body, Spirit aligning.

The act of aligning is the act of loving. Loving yourself enough to align within your physical body; loving yourself and another enough to align with the shared emotional needs of intimate relationships; or, loving your purpose enough to align with the mental demands of a workforce, ask for sensitivity and strength between mind and body, and self and other. The penalty of misalignment is the deterioration of one’s will.

In other words, the Will to Align is the devotion to invest your self to uphold the integrity of someone or something. The Will to Align is the courage to make love a verb.

Being devoted to a sound mind and body is exercising the confidence to make choices and craft a life simply because it contributes to its very nature—your nature–and not because it adheres to any external pressure to be or do anything else. Giving yourself permission to care for yourself connects you to your life purpose. Devoting yourself to personal integrity positions you to be in service to that purpose.

To develop self-devotion, recognize the importance of posture. How you stand on your feet, where your shoulder blades rest, how your spine adapts to sitting—physical subtleties, when aligned mindfully, are deliberately crafting the details of your life. This is ultimately how you place yourself in a life you want. Because how you do the smallest things are how you do the biggest things. Insist on integrity. Change your posture—change your life!

Enduring misalignment, no matter how small, in mind or body, becomes a way of surviving. And if you’re not careful, the accrued tension embodied from these compromises become preferable to the strength found in alignment. The unaddressed tension in the body keeps you in familiar patterns of poor posture that undermine the will’s devotion. Integrity is lost. The essence of you becomes buried under layers of disassociating.

  • Aligning does not mean connecting to things that feel secure; it means connecting to things that feel meaningful.
  • Aligning means establishing the path of least resistance, so that emotional truth is unveiled, physical strength is upheld, and mental poise is transparent. Misalignment is anything that interferes with this.

Lao Tzu guides us by saying, “Give attention to the smallest things to simplify the complicated.” Let tension be your guide to recognize and reconcile the small misalignments and you will take ownership of your life and its condition. Any physical discomfort, mental confusion, or emotional anxiety, are signals that something is misaligned. Trust your senses, your thoughts can convince you it’s nothing!

Misaligning holding patterns are invisible to us until they cause some kind of rigid reaction, but they are not rock solid—the mind and body do let go when your response to tension is one of curiosity rather than dismissiveness. Curiosity meaning: to witness conditions and explore changes that unravel tension. Don’t wait till the elephant is the room is so big the condition is un-reconcilable.

 

Are You Aligned With Your Strength or Your Tension?

When we work from strength we feel strong. When we work from tension we feel weak.

How do you feel today? 

Let’s say strong is a connectedness between your self and a challenge that leaves you feeling successful; and weak is a separation between your self and a challenge that leaves you feeling unsuccessful. The cause of separation in weakness is often due to the mind and body having a different perspective about what you are intending to do. Inner ambivalence exhausts your allegiance.

Your mind is motivated to workout; your body feels self conscious working out.
The result: 18% of gym members don’t show up at the gym.
Your mind wants to eat healthy; your body feels punished eating healthy.
The result: 68% of Americans are overweight or obese.

Mind body ambivalence creates tension filled patterns in your physical performance and mental response to challenge. To connect with your strength rather than your tension, first take a moment to focus inward. Recognize your mental, emotional, and physical condition. Take a breath. Widen back in your mind, release stress through the occipital hollows at the base of your skull. Breath again. Reorganize the body, relax muscular tension so you experience the bones weight. Then, surrender your mind and body into each other until you are OK with who you are now and who you are becoming. Begin connecting to your challenge from this place and an internal strength is coupled with an external expanse that inspires you into the challenge.

Strength is excavated out of tension.

Pretzel Neck Remedy

Curling up with a good book, bingeing on favorite television episodes, and napping with your beloved for hours on end (be they a two-legged or four-legged) are all wonderful things to do on cold winter days. A few months of contorting your body into positions that resemble a pretzel, leave you feeling like a pretzel!

Here’s a quick remedy for a pretzel neck…

Place two fingers lightly on your Adam’s Apples, central in the front of your throat, and swallow. You will feel the Adam’s Apple jump. Keep your attention on your Adam’s Apple and take your hand away. Now take a deep breath and imagine your Adam’s Apple gently gliding back within the circumference of your neck as you exhale. This will be a very subtle internal movement that changes the relationship between your neck and throat. Keep relaxing back with your breath until the sensation of this adjustment leaves you pain free.

When successful in adjusting the flow of subtle energy you experience relief multidimensionally. Physically the area feels more spacious, like a yawn; mentally you feel more present, like time has slowed down or even stopped.

Use this remedy as a preventative posture any time you are entering into a stressful situation that typically triggers holding patterns in your neck, throat, or shoulders.

A Year Round Practice

A Year Round Practice
January 2017

The wisdom of an eight year old on Christmas Eve brings to mind what is important year round. This invitation rested on dinner plates guiding each of us to our seats. She beckoned us to be with her here and now. As it turned out, we were present for her first Christmas without the childhood belief of a Santa Claus; what a right of passage in a child’s life.

She reminds us that here and now is precious and meaningful. Every moment is secretly packed with an experience of evolution, even the mundane, perhaps especially in the repetition of mundane life. All transformational life practices demonstrate that repetition creates change if you practice here and now.