I’ve added a regular feature to most classes called “The Big Six,” a series of movements developed by Dr. Perry Nickleston, creator of Stop Chasing Pain (www.stopchasingpain.com), to increase lymph flow. Despite the critical functions performed by the lymphatic system of ridding our bodies of waste, it has received very little attention in medical and even movement modalities. Dr. Perry came to focus on lymphatics after becoming critically ill with an autoimmune disorder for which their appeared to be no cure until he met a colleague at a training who asked if he’d like to have his lymph system assessed?
Having no idea what this meant, but desperate for help, Dr. Perry had the assessment and found that every spot assessed was frighteningly tender and that even after just the assessment, which stimulates the lymph nodes, he woke up feeling a bit better the next day.
Dr. Perry uses the metaphor of a dirty aquarium to explain the lymphatic system. He says no fish survives in a dirty aquarium, no matter what medicine or food it receives, because there’s too much waste in the tank. We can change the water in the tank or put medicine and food in the water but the fish will stay ill and finally die. What we need to change is the filter on the aquarium and in our bodies, our lymphatic system is our filter.
So try the Big Six every day for a month and see how you feel. The process will increase blood flow to and from your tissues and clear toxins from your body – all good things for our wellbeing.
We hear so much about core strength, but what does it mean? And why is it often so difficult for us to connect with our core?
When I work with people one-on-one, some part of their core almost always isn’t very well connected to their brain. Instead, our brains use muscles in our neck, jaw, shoulders, back, and even our toes for power instead of gathering it from our central source.
Yoga is a practice about finding our center: physically in asana, energetically with our breath, mentally by drawing inwards and meeting ourselves, and spiritually by connecting with what is greater than ourselves. This all takes practice and consistent effort on our part. Often, we find ourselves drifting, slipping into distractions that pervade our days if we allow it. We get tangled up in our thoughts. We literally lose ourselves.
How do we remember ourselves so we can find our way back to our core? The root of the word 'remember' comes from the 1500s meaning re (again) and memorari (to be mindful of). So again and again, we remember to be mindful and not distracted from what’s truly central to us.
Another way to think of the word is that we re – member ourselves, as in we connect with our members: our cells, tissues, organs, and body systems. Sometimes when we re – member ourselves, it brings discomfort because we then have to feel ourselves. I often wonder if the vitriolic nature of our national debates could be caused by so many people not wanting to feel what’s going on inside their own bodies. Simply put, it’s easier to be mad at someone else or some group than to feel your own pain and discomfort.
Yoga gives us tools to learn how to re-member ourselves and find our center, our core, so we can feel and therefore heal. Remember the well-known phrase, “ You can’t heal what you don’t feel.” Mindful movement, breathwork, meditation, chanting, and guided relaxation all direct our awareness back to the source that’s not somewhere out there. It’s right inside us, just as it always has been and always will be. This profound power, at all levels, is just waiting for us to notice that it is available in us.
As Etty Hillesum said in her famous diary, An Interrupted Life: The Diaries of Etty Hillesum 1941-1943:
“…knowledge must seep into your blood, into your self, not just into your head, that you must live it.”
Live it we must, re-membering ourselves in our core one breath at a time.
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Rejecting Hate & Fear and Choosing Active Hope
During vacation, I was outside enjoying the gentle breeze at dinner with my daughter’s family in South Fenwick Island, Delaware when I noticed a man’s t-shirt at the next table. I had seen the front when he’d gotten up. It said “Pistolville” and had pictures of various handguns on it. When he sat down, I saw the saying on the back of the shirt. It read:
Love may turn out to be fake
But the HATE is always real
Hopefully, the t-shirt was a joke. Still, my stomach tightened as I read the inscription, as the truth of its relevance in our world today resonated throughout my body.
Hate has always been a powerful force. It can energize us and focus us. Hate leads to violence, because if we really hate someone, we no longer see them as our fellow human being. As a result, we can belittle and humiliate and even injure or kill because we think the other person is less than we are. Whether it’s the Ugandan Tutsis vs. Hutus or the Nazis vs. the Jews, it’s a terribly common tale of pain and suffering.
I’ve always made the assumption that as our societies became more advanced, we’d become wiser and more humane. But this doesn’t always happen. With the beginning of this new school year, for example, a Missouri school district is reviving the practice of corporal punishment for students (parents can opt out). Corporal punishment is legal in around 20 states in the U.S. and is based on the misguided concept that if children feel physical pain after misbehaving, they will change their behavior. Research has shown that corporal punishment is most frequently used on boys and especially on those who are black and have disabilities (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5766273/).
Corporal punishment teaches children another key force that’s become very active in our society today: fear. If you fear your teacher, then you will obey. This is also the philosophy that drives a lot of Christian Nationalists today: If you fear God, you will obey and will be “saved.” And you need to be saved by a blood sacrifice that occurred over 2000 years ago because humanity is so vile that the only remedy was for God’s only son to be violently murdered on a cross. As Fr. Richard Rohr says, if this is what God is – a toxic, vengeful tyrant - then I don’t want any part of it (https://cac.org/daily-meditations/a-toxic-image-of-god-2016-01-28/).
If hate and fear are the principles that come easily, then the guiding principle that is more difficult for us to offer consistently to ourselves and to others is love. Love may take time and require great patience as well as effort on our part, but it can do anything. In every good yarn and movie, it’s love that always wins in the end.
Despite the chaos and conflict of our time, I believe we can choose love and, most especially, hope. Starting with classes in September, we’ll be diving into the concept of hope as an active state. I hope you’ll join me!
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Moving Past the Dualism of Red vs. Blue
"When you're down on the lower levels of the pyramid you will be on either one side or the other. But when you get to the top, the points all come together, and there the eye of God opens." - Joseph Campbell, author of “The Hero with a Thousand Faces”
How happy was this Independence Day for you? It’s complicated for me as I worry about our country. Daily I work to find ways out of the “Us vs. Them” mentality currently gripping our great Democracy. Every time we look at the frequently posted diagram of “Red States” and “Blue States” as a representation of our United States, we deepen this powerful division between us because images have great meaning.
Many of you may remember my teacher, Brother John Martin Sahajananda Kuvarapu from Saccidananda Ashram, when he visited from India and spoke to my classes. Brother Martin taught us that the lowest level of consciousness is being a victim, which has become a mainstay mentality in America today. The second level of consciousness, he said, is realizing that you can act and that you can effect change in your life. While a step forward from victimhood, this state can be toxic if the actions taken aren’t healthy for us or for our larger community. The third stage, he said, is an awareness that we’re acting and moving in a larger sphere that’s about more than just us. This is where it gets hard for us humans with our relentless “what’s in it for me?” mindset. This stage is about moving from dualism to a nondual state that’s beyond “Us vs. Them.” For a quick primer on dualism and non-dualism, see this video (embedded here):
It feels to me that America is painfully stuck in the first two phases of dualistic consciousness. Entitlement emanating from victimhood is rampant, as is taking actions to promote a certain worldview, propping up one specific group, excluding and belittling others − and worse.
How do we get beyond this? Think of the image of a triangle. It’s a non-dualistic shape with three corners, not two, and many points of convergence (circumcenter, orthocenter, etc.). This opens up the possibility of a third force, as Cynthia Bourgeault teaches, that arises with new energy beyond the first two entrenched viewpoints. We truly need this emergent fresh force if we are to move with and not be overwhelmed by the compounding challenges facing us all.
This image and concept of the triangle is recurrent in myth, religion, and life. There are the three Fates, the three Furies, and Poseidon’s trident from Greek mythology; the Holy Trinity from Christianity; the three primary colors in art; body, mind, spirit or animal, mineral, vegetable in natural science; in our daily life there are slices of pie and pizza, and the list goes on. The idea of three was personified by the Celtic Shaman who was believed to be able to see the past, the present, and the future. Standing in three different worlds at the same time, the Shaman’s viewpoint was inclusive.
I try to encourage myself into this third space, and I follow organizations that do the same. One is Braver Angels, which brings together Americans of different political viewpoints. Time and again, research shows that if we can increase our proximity to those we oppose, we move toward that third force viewpoint that expands our awareness and gives us new solutions.
If we truly want to make this country great, it will take more than “winning” political battles. Whoever wins those battles, I suspect, will find themselves at the top of a bloodied, wounded, and dysfunctional heap of a nation. We need to find a way to embrace all parts of ourselves and each other, together.
It is a reality that we need each other and that no one is expendable. Consider the tree and the mushroom. The mushroom conducts moisture and minerals to the tree’s roots. The tree transmits nutrients to the mushroom that it can’t absorb by itself. Like the tree and the mushroom, whatever our differences, we can benefit from each other.
If you just can’t imagine this happening, consider the story of Shirley Chisholm and George Wallace. Chisholm, from Brooklyn, NY, was the first black woman ever elected to Congress in 1968. George Wallace was the Governor of Alabama and was the most famous avowed segregationist in modern history. Wallace was making a run as an independent candidate for President on a platform of segregation when he was shot and paralyzed.
Much to the surprise of Wallace’s family, Chisholm visited Wallace in the hospital. She said she would never want what happened to him to happen to anyone. Wallace reportedly cried. Due to Chisholm’s equanimity, they came into relationship with each other. Wallace ended up marshalling the support from southern states that Chisholm needed for her bill, giving domestic workers the right to the minimum wage.
This is third force. This is how we move forward. We get brave and open our hearts and follow the leadership of people like Shirley Chisholm and other marginalized people who have been struggling for a voice and for equity through their entire individual and collective lives.
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On the Passing of Thich Nhat Hanh 1.22.22
As we mourn the loss of the remarkable Vietnamese Buddhist monk, teacher, peace activist, and ecologist Thich Nhat Hanh (1926-2022), we remember his famous quote as we are certainly in the mud at the moment. We’ve lived through two years of the Covid-19 pandemic resulting in five-and-a-half million deaths worldwide, political divisions in the US beyond what any of us have seen in our lifetimes, skyrocketing rates of wealth disparity, and increasing extreme weather events as climate change creates chaos. We should be growing some great lotuses because these plants bloom their best flowers when they live in the muckiest of muds.
Thich Nhat Hanh, affectionately known as Thay (which means “teacher” in Vietnamese), made the truths of Buddhism accessible to Westerners. The first noble truth of Buddhism is the concept of “Duhkha,” which refers to the inevitable mud of life: suffering, pain, unhappiness, and stress. I imagine if you thought your life was stressful before March 2020, your stress-o-meter has moved up a few notches since then.
To manage the mud, Thay encouraged awareness of and gratitude for the present moment, his “peace in every step” and “peace in every breath” teaching. I read a tribute by an author who remembered Thay coming to speak to her class when she was a seminary student:
“Anything he said was crowded out by the sheer magnitude of his presence. He was so tiny, and so magnificent. His truest teaching was how fully present he was with us as he taught,” explained Meggan Watterson.
To manage the mud, I think Thay would remind us to relax as a way to create. “It’s very important that we re-learn the art of resting and relaxing,” Thay said. “Not only does it help prevent the onset of many illnesses that develop through chronic tension and worrying; it allows us to clear our minds, focus, and find creative solutions to problems.” I can testify that I have done more restorative yoga in the past two years than in all of my past years of yoga to help me manage the mud.
I know Thay would invite us to embrace Mother Earth. “She is not outside of you,” Thay said. “Mother Earth is not just your environment…it is possible to have real communication with the Earth, which is the highest form of prayer.” Hasn’t going outside taken on a new meaning during the last two years? Haven’t we realized the gifts right outside our doors in a more expansive way because of this crisis?
Thay’s life was full of mud and lotus. Thay worked around the world for peace during the Vietnam War but was banned by Vietnam in 1966 from returning. So in 1967, he created a monastery in Southern France called Plum Village, which has evolved into a thriving community of teachers and seekers. Plum Village has three affiliate monasteries in the US. Thay was also a prolific author who penned close to 50 books.
Thay was able to return to Vietnam and passed in the monastery where he took his first vows at age 16. Like Archbishop Desmond Tutu, also recently lost to us, Thay fully experienced both the great suffering of the mud but embodied the enlightenment and rebirth of the lotus in the regular moments of every day. May we follow his example, step by step.
Peace to each of you,
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How to Center in an Age of Turmoil
Our world today is a lot to take in. My husband calls much of what we see in the news “The Anger Movement” because so many people seem so violently upset.
How do we maintain our center and participate productively in this environment?
Last weekend, I attended an online meditation retreat with Zen Priest Angel Kyodo Williams, author of Radical Dharma and Being Black. She told us the single capacity that will never do us wrong is coming back to ourselves through sitting meditation. So much of the constant rush of our lives keeps us from feeling into our bodies. We’re habituated to take off and run away from ourselves. But by quietly abiding when we sit in meditation, we come home to ourselves. This is the antidote to a society and culture that wants us to forget our true selves, she says. Through mindfulness, through showing up for ourselves in meditation over and over again, we find the world that has always been waiting for us, that invites our truths and our complexities.
When we know who we are, when we can stay settled in our own bodies, then we can go forward in our world. During my recent week at Chautauqua, one speaker told of the remarkable and resolute African Americans in Montgomery, Alabama, during the 382-day bus boycott who kept on keeping on. This is what I try and keep in my awareness – not outrage but inspiration and gratitude for the giants on whose shoulders we stand. I try and remember that how we are on the inside ripples out into the world and has an effect.
When our lives get difficult, as the Dalai Lama says, we need to meditate more. We also need to help others more and speak our truth more. Every little bit makes a difference. Everything you do makes a difference. Let’s encourage each other to keep promoting peace within and without because while it’s a solo journey, Rev. Angel says, the paradox is that we do it together.
Peace to Each of You,
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Healing Ourselves with the Earth
Have you ever lost yourself in a tree? At our friend’s property in Rhode Island off Narragansett Bay (New England’s largest estuary), there is a Copper Beech that my artist husband has drawn. It has a royal canopy of burgundy and silver, fanning out like a giant mushroom over a stalk of trunks that sink into its base like a huge bunch of celery.
I practiced yoga facing this tree. We estimate the tree was planted around 1926, the year Queen Elizabeth was born, Francisco Franco became General of Spain and the NBC Radio Network opened with 24 stations. I kept my eyes on the tree and listened as I moved and then meditated. An interplay of images and thoughts streamed through my mind, and I felt the tree sharing wisdom with me.
Our relationship with nature is reciprocal: “As we work to heal the Earth, the Earth heals us,” says 92-year-old ecologist and Buddhist teacher Joanna Macy. She encourages us to see our beautiful planet not as separate from us but as our larger living body.
So don’t wait! Get outside this summer and invite nature into your life. You may be surprised when nature answers you back.
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Finding Freedom: A Cook’s Story - Remaking a Life from Scratch by Erin French
Don’t miss this wonderful memoir by the chef of The Lost Kitchen, a world dining destination in Freedom, Maine. Beautifully written and life-affirming.
Sherlock Holmes fans: don’t miss the Bonnie MacBride Series! The Art of the Blood, Unquiet Spirits, The Devil’s Due and The Three Locks have all measurably improved my summer so far!
Joanna Macy, whom I mentioned above, has written many books, but A Wild Love for the World is a good place to start!
Re-entering the World with Fresh Eyes
Sometimes things aren't exactly as they appear. We couldn’t wait for the pandemic to slow so we could return to life as we knew it, right? But now that the virus is (hopefully) receding, how do we re-enter our world? What do we add back into our schedule? Perhaps more importantly, what don’t we bring back? Can we make small talk after a year without any? Who do we want to be as we return to a more outwardly-oriented life?
The balance of the inner and outer worlds is a constant focus in our yogic journey. Yoga always and forever invites us to travel into ourselves and very specifically so with the breath. We draw the breath in and we notice ourselves in that moment; we follow the breath out as it leaves our bodies and the cycle continues.
As we re-enter our world, I for one am hoping to maintain some of my new habits. Long walks in the woods, regular restorative yoga practice, regular movement/asana sessions, meditation and lots and lots of writing. For those of us who have had the privilege of being able to stay home during the pandemic, the time has been an opportunity for exploration. While not always pleasant, hopefully this block of time has created a shift in our awareness so that we can see our world with fresh eyes.
As we take ourselves back out, let’s bring with us some of the clarity that we’ve garnered during this difficult time. Let’s look at what we see with more curiosity and neutrality. Because if we can let go of at least some of our assumptions, we might just find opportunities both individually and collectively that at first glance appeared impossible.
Bonus Tidbit: Join former monk Andy Puddicombe on his podcast Radio Headspace, where current episodes feature ideas for navigating through post-pandemic daily life.
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FOLLOWING with Tracy Rhinehart presents "Beyond the Asana," a conversation with Anne Ondrey, available now! Watch below or here.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.