Clearing the clutter: a cathartic practice

Earlier this week, I sat in a sangha among a roomful of spiritual seekers, gathered together in pursuit of a shared goal to reset the self.  Prior to coming, we were given the task to cut physical clutter from our lives. A few folks shared their experiences: various items of stagnant energy ushered into the forsaken trash - the ex’s toothbrush, the taunting pack of cigarettes, the size 4 pants that paraded in the past - or my personal favorite “an ex-boyfriend’s comforter he got from an ex-girlfriend”… folks were purging it all.

The only thing missing from this gathering was the bonfire to eat it all to ash. 

As tales of emotion unraveled, one truth became clear – the cleansing process was cathartic. A visceral lightness cloaked the room as stories were shared and chords were cut.

Clutter comes in many forms: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual.

Often we are reluctant to let go of that which we’ve grown to know.  We attach to familiarity. From birth and our first breath, we enter into a foreign world. It is here we start the search to know oneself, and so we begin the uncomfortable relationship with uncertainty. Often we find it difficult to part from the past because it is concrete, defined, and tangible. But when we finally let go and let pass, accepting the transience of life, we ultimately make room for green and growth. Nature is a perfect teacher. A forest fire sweeps the Earth of old growth. Dead leaves crinkle in the flames. And when all is settled in dirt, the ground is fertile and bears new buds. Nature’s recycling.

So how do we cut the clutter and learn from nature’s wisdom? Here are a few ways to cultivate a clear mind, body, and soul.

1. Clear your physical space.

You’ve heard people say it: clear space, clear mind. Objects carry physical energy. Cleaning brings balance. Start with your physical surroundings. Empty the trash, donate unworn clothes, toss the moldy bread. Allow your physical surroundings to breathe and notice the lightness in your lungs.  Perhaps try a smudging ritual. Many ancient traditions such as the Native Americans burn herbs (sage, palo santo, cedar) to cleanse the space. It is believed that the smoke sews itself to the negative energy - and as it dissolves, so does the strings of negative energy.

2. Cleanse and purify your body.

Your body is your soul’s home. Nurture it fully. Flush it of toxins and reinvigorate it with fresh foods. Take a purifying yoga class, go for a run, move in anyway you feel inspired and sweat out the excess.  Nourish yourself after. Breathe deeply – breathing is one of our bodies’ most powerful forms of detoxification.

3. Learn to let go.

One of the eight limbs of yoga is “aparigrapha,” the practice of non-attachment. Easier said than done, of course.  But if you learn to accept what is, you can cultivate peace. Understand that external factors and circumstances are out of your control, but what you have in gold is the power to control all that is within.

4. Feel fully and allow emotions to travel through you.

“Emotion” comes from the Latin word emovere meaning to move out. Emotions are like waves that flow through and out of each being. Often they result from blocked energy relating to experiences both subtle and intense. Notice when emotions emerge, and allow yourself to feel without reservation. Witness without judgment. Treat your feelings as teachers, as guides sent from beyond.

“Welcome and entertain them all! Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture, still treat each guest honorably. He may be clearing you out for some new delight.”  - Rumi

5. Create to liberate.

Write, journal, paint, doodle, make music, dance, build sand castles, sing, pick up fallen leaves and build a collage – create. Make anything that speaks to you. Find your inner child and follow the footprints of your curiosity. Creativity is an outlet for energy to flow freely and it is the birth of new horizons. 

“Do whatever brings you to life, then. Follow your own fascinations, obsessions and compulsions. Trust them. Create whatever causes a revolution in your heart.” – Elizabeth Gilbert

6. Meditate for your mind’s medicine.

Meditating helps us clear the mental clutter and empty out the mind.  Take 20 minutes to meditate, before your morning coffee or eating rajasic foods that may move the mind. If you’re new to this, try a dark place like the closet. Sit up tall. If your thinking-oriented, focus awareness on the Ajna Chakra, the Third-eye space between your brows. If you are feeling-oriented, focus on the Anahata Chakra, your heart. Allow thoughts to pass like a logs floating down a river and return to your breath.

There are many ways to clear the mind, body and spirit. But of all that exist, it is important to remember that you can press the reset button at any time. Trust the natural ebb and flow of life. Rather than resist what comes, ride the wave and welcome it with an open heart.

 

This article originally appeared on Basmati.com 

THE IMPORTANCE OF BREATH: THE ANATOMICAL AND ENERGETIC LOWDOWN

Breathing. You might say it’s important.

Sure, we know it is life juice – a necessity to think, do, speak, say, move about our ways. But what is the real deal behind breathing? Why do yogis and mindfulness practitioners believe in the power of the breath?

In truth, rarely do we notice the quality of our own breath. Often it is an automatic function that resides in the subconscious. Now, think of any moment you have felt frightened, scared, shocked or stressed. Did you notice how your emotions affect your breathing patterns? Different experiences and feelings can stimulate rapid or shallow breathing – two actions that do a disservice to your overall wellbeing.  

So let’s understand why breathing is so important and how we can harness its power.

“A yogi measures the span of life by the number of breaths, not by the number of years” – Swami Sivananda.

Breathing influences our lifespan. Humans take some 16 breaths a minute. Look at animals with slower breath rates like elephants compared to those with fast-paced breath rates like rabbits. Who lives longer?

Breathing feeds our livelihood. Biologically, the breath bears oxygen and ensures optimal functioning of our bodies’ processes. It influences every cell in our being and is linked to brain performance. It also serves as our own detoxification ritual, exhaling CO2 and other waste from the body. In fact 80% of the toxins in our body are released through exhales.

Conscious breathing conquers stress. Focusing on deep breathing sends messages to the brain to calm the mind. It triggers the parasympathetic nervous system to engage and counteract sympathetic nervous system (the part responsible for the fight or flight reactions often provoked by daily stress). Bringing awareness to your breath will help shoo that stress. And since stress is a gateway to many other illnesses, you might want to indulge in your inhales.

Conscious breathing helps manage anxiety and lowers heart rate. Since the parasympathetic nervous system is called into action, the vagus nerve is stimulated. This nerve plays a major role in lowering heart rate, reducing blood pressure and combatting depression. Lots of biological wins here.

Conscious breathing can increase focus. A Harvard study shows that controlled breathing often used in meditation can in fact increase brain size and nurture parts of the brain associated with focused attention and processing of sensory information.

The breath brings us into the present moment. Our mind moves a million miles a minute. It lurks in the past and prophesizes about the future.  Connecting with the breath is a therapeutic tool used in many mindfulness practices to summon presence.

“Breathing in, I calm body and mind. Breathing out, I smile. Dwelling in the present moment I know this is the only moment.” – Thich Nhat Hanh

The breath unifies body and mind. From an energetic perspective, consider the breath as a bridge between the layers of consciousness. In Yoga we seek to “yuj” or “yoke” the body, mind and spirit and it is through breath that we find balance and union. 

In yoga we learn to control the breath through a practice called Pranayama. In Sanskrit, one of the many meanings of “Prana” is “vital energy or life force” and “ayama” means the “extension or expansion.” It is important not to confuse breath with Prana. Prana is a universal force found in all things and our breath contains Prana.

Pranic breathing releases emotional blockages. Our physical bodies hold past experiences – be it memories or even karmic impressions. Take a moment to conjure up a situation that evoked a deep feeling. Close your eyes and notice where that emotion emerges on the body. We may have heartache that results in heaviness in the chest or “a heavy heart.” We may feel stress and burden for others, so mush so that we “carry the weight of the world.” Even our everyday language intimates at this connection between emotions and the body. When parts of the body are in pain, there is a physical layer and subtle energetic layers. Pranic breathing addresses the many layers of consciousness to help release the blockage on a deeper level.

Breathing and Pranayama prepares us for deeper experiences of meditation. In the Hatha yoga tradition, specific pranayama practices are performed after an asana sequence to prepare one for meditation.  Through pranayama breath work, one can activate and expand prana past limitation, increasing vibrational energy and awareness. According to the Upanishads, the sound of the breath on inhalation is “So” and on exhalation is “Ham.” In Vedic philosophy so ham is a mantra, “I am that,” thus identifying oneself with the entire universe.

Pranic breathing can unlock various states of consciousness. According to the Ancient Indian science of Yoga, the human body contains over 72,000 nadi or channels. Of these nadi there are three major channels that run up the spine – the ida, pingala and sushumna. It is on the sushumna, central energy nadi, that you will find the 7 major chakras or energy wheels. Each chakra correlates to a layer consciousness. It is the subtle energy of kundalini that awakens at the base of the spine and rises throughout the chakras until it reaches the crown chakra, provoking a state of oneness.

Believe it or not, this only scrapes the surface of breathing. But now you’ve got a brief lowdown and can pocket this knowledge for use. Next time you feel stressed, if your mind wanders off or your thoughts travel hyper-speed… find your breath. Take deep, juicy breaths of life and notice the subtle changes of your wellbeing.

 

This article was originally featured on Basmati.com

Welcome

How about an introduction? 

My name is Gaby. East coast raised and moved to the Big Apple in 2008. In previous years, I had dabbled in yoga but it was here that my relationship with the practice really began. It started in a 3-story walk up in the East Village - a donation-based studio next to the dollar pizza joint that summoned all the broke college kids (myself included). On first glance of the tarnished stairwell, I wondered if I was in the right place...until I reached the top and was greeted with the potent smells of sweaty bodies and unwashed hair. I had no idea what I was getting myself into…The room was packed like sardines, but a full house is never a bad sign. And so the teacher beckoned us to begin in Child's Pose. "This is nice…" I thought. It wasn't until the teacher said "and exhale H-A," that I found myself truly horrified. The room erupted in orgasmic H-Ahhhh's and for a second I had wondered if I by mistakenly showed up at an orgy. As the choir continued in all sorts of gratifying sighs, I had to bite my tongue from bursting into laughter…nobody thought this was weird? Little did I know, I would soon join the pack in the pleasurable exhales of breath, the flow through Vinyasas, dripping sweat in the triad of chair-poses and rolling on the floor like a happy baby. That was how I really met Yoga.

Fast forward a few years. I was studying Media, Culture and Communications at New York University and for me, the real meat of the subject was in the human psyche. I was in awe of the workings of the mind. Pair that with the hobby photographer of my youth who relished in visual expression and well… you get a wanna be “Mad” Woman. (No, not a crazy person. Just someone who digs the vibrancy of advertising life.)  Advertising seemed like the perfect path, a home for my passion of understanding human behavior, learning from a diversity of people and collectively bringing an idea to life. This period was ripe with ambition – studying, waitressing, interning – you name it. In a city of bloody dreamers it’s easy to dive into the shuffle. And there in the middle of the tornado of day-to-day activities was Yoga. You know the eye of the storm? The calm? That was it. Yoga was my much needed partner that brought be back to Earth, helped me stay grounded and find balance amidst the buzz of the city.

And then something happened…what I refer to as my “quarter life crisis.” I won’t go into the gritty details of it, but suffice to say I realized that I was no longer living. Living in the sense of being awake to every moment. So I thought long and hard, throwing rationality out the window and turned my attention to the emotional intelligence of my heart. They don’t tell you to follow your intuition for nothing. What I realized was that I want to help people find happiness.

I want to empower individuals to find their truth, embrace vulnerability, and discover the beauty that is right in front of them. For 6 months of my commute on the subway, I would write down gratitudes…it was a small exercise but one that awoke a sincere appreciation for little things. In 2014 I bid adieu to the Big Apple and decided to take the first step on my path to helping people find their happiness… I bought a one-way ticket to Thailand and completed my 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training certification.

What ensued, was a yearlong study of the wisdoms of the world. I volunteered my way across Southeast Asia and Europe in exchange for a bed and food, learning from different cultures and people.  I spent a few weeks at a Peace Commune in Portugal where I was introduced to several healing practices that whet my appetite. I went on to do everything under the sun from woodchopper to Moringa gardener, chicken mama to yoga teacher. It was all weird and wonderful.

And then I decided to pay a visit to one of the greatest teachers of all… the wild and intoxicating Mother Nature herself. I packed my life into the trunk of a car with my best friend and for the following few months we canvassed the continent of Europe, conquering some 18,000 km of backcountry roads, hiking into the depths of the mountains and weaving between somewhere and nowhere. I tried to capture beauty in unlikely places and scribble thoughts and observations along the way. (Don’t ask me how many times I showered during this period… I’m not very proud.) It was a fruitful year of learning and one ripe with the experiences that have only reinforced the path I am on.

And now, here I am… a new resident of the Bay area and feeling grateful to call this place my home. January marks my first month teaching at Mindful Life Studio, a wonderful sanctuary for finding the calm and sharing it with others.  I believe that one of the best ways to learn is to teach and with that sentiment I am looking forward to teaching many students and growing with and from each other.

So welcome! This is my space for sharing yogic thoughts. Hopefully this gives you a better sense of who I am. Come visit me at Mindful Life Studio or feel free to say hi!

Peace, Love, Good Energy and Light.