Tag Archive | Yoga

I AM BRAVE AND STRONG

The Line

When I was a child, I was afraid of everything, all the time. My Top Five Fears were:

  • Nuclear war with Russia
  • My parents getting divorced or something happening to my sisters
  • Tornadoes
  • Getting an incurable disease
  • Auditioning for the plays I loved to do

To cope with these fears, I:

  • Cultivated a life-long battle with insomnia by staying awake all night, kneeling beneath my bedroom window, watching the sky for signs of a missile attack.
  • Obsessed over every word, fight, emotion and unspoken dynamic in my family. I bossed around my sisters, which they LOVED (sarcasm).
  • Went into hysterics every time there was a thunderstorm. I lived in Indiana, so this was an every-other-day occurrence.
  • Compulsively watched every Made-for-TV, Disease-of-the-Week movie about kids dying from illness.
  • Forced myself to audition through uncontrollable nerves that prevented me from landing the roles I wanted.

On the slightly healthier side, I had a mantra I repeated whenever I was terrified to go through an experience. I would imagine myself as an adult and say to myself: When I’m 23, I won’t be afraid of this. When I’m 35, I won’t be afraid of this. For some reason, knowing that I would someday outgrow the fear helped me to move through it in the present.

My entire life has been an exercise in overcoming fear. Nearly every relationship I’ve formed, trip I’ve taken, audition I’ve shown up for, conversation I’ve had, and new experience I’ve tried, has been dearly fought for through a fog of fear. I’ve been pleased to discover that, indeed, as an adult I haven’t been so afraid of the things I feared as a child. I’ve also learned that repetition and practice is my best ally and the foundation of confidence.

For the past year, I’ve walked through much of what many people are starting to experience now: health challenges, job loss, housing loss, no regular income for a year (and still none), fear, uncertainty, and social isolation—all while navigating crippling grief and heartbreak. None of my financial, housing or social challenges have resolved yet, although I’m deeply grateful for the return of my health. I was hoping to turn a corner soon but may have to exercise patience even longer than I was expecting, as jobs continue to fall through and social opportunities decline. It has been surreal to witness the current climate with a feeling of familiarity instead of novelty. To that end, I’d like to share some of the things that have been helpful to me, with the hope that they will be helpful to others as well.

I believe that learning to face and manage fear is our hardest but most important task:

  • Feel fear whenever it arises, without resisting or ignoring it.
  • Acknowledge it and allow it to move through and out of your body.
  • Become an Observer. Step outside of the paradigm of fear, realizing that it is not you, and that it can be experienced without it having to mean anything.
  • Get present. Feel your breath moving in and out of your body. Get in touch with your senses. Recognize that, in this moment, you are almost certainly okay. This is true even within difficult moments, if you take them one at a time.
  • Connect your Mind and Body. Our feeling of separation from the Whole is what causes most of our suffering and this is true when our bodies feel disconnected as well. When we walk around with racing brains and numb bodies, it’s a recipe for fear to take charge.

My Favorite Ways to Ground & Connect:

Meditation. If you do nothing else for yourself, even 10 minutes of meditation per day will change your life. When we become still, we discover that we are not our bodies, our relationships, our jobs, our finances, our successes, our failures, our environment, or our politics. We simply are…something much greater and deeper than any of those things. We step outside of identification with the personality. Connecting with the Source of who we really are is the beginning of the end of fear. Here’s a meditation practice for Inner Peace.

Nature. Getting outside is truly the best medicine. In a world that moves fast and revolves around technology, nature has a different rhythm. It is slow, cyclical, seasonal. Things come and go, rise and fall. Connecting to nature’s rhythms can provide immediate relief from fear, anxiety and depression, and give us the fortitude to move ahead.

Yoga / Walking / Dancing. Any exercise that connects the two halves of the brain, drops you into your body and releases endorphins is a fantastic way to combat fear. When I couldn’t do any exercise at all, I missed it terribly, but the benefits were still there when I remembered to align with my breath and inner spaciousness. My favorite at-home classes are Yoga with Adriene.

Breathwork. Most people are breathing shallowly, from their chest, or unconsciously holding their breath. Deep, diaphragmatic breathing and pranayama techniques strengthens and settles the nervous system, boosts immunity, processes old trauma, releases stuck emotion, and helps us to stay mindful of the present moment. I’ve even used this on an airplane during bad turbulence and it worked. Here’s a great series to learn some basic breathing techniques.

Tapping. EFT Tapping provides almost instant relief from anxiety, spinning thoughts, fear, and physical pain. It’s been proven to be as effective as acupuncture and can be done safely and easily by anyone, anywhere, of any age. My favorite Tapping coach is Nick Ortner.

Chanting. Chanting a Sanskrit mantra along with music is a powerful way to focus one’s mind and energy. In Kundalini Yoga, one aims to chant for at least 11 minutes; I can promise that you will feel differently when you end than when you began. I had chants playing on repeat during my hospital stay, through the late hours when I couldn’t sleep, and it was incredibly comforting. My favorite music for chanting is White Sun.

Journaling. Many years ago, I began doing Morning Pages, which is at least three pages of stream-of-consciousness writing first thing in the morning. This practice has brought me more clarity than almost anything else I do. It’s a great place to dump the fear so that it leaves your head and doesn’t dump onto other people instead. Here’s the explanation of Morning Pages from Julia Cameron.

I can honestly affirm that walking through fear builds strength, resilience, confidence and compassion. There are many gifts to be found within this tumultuous time. We humans have been and will continue to be challenged for as long as we inhabit the earth. The only difference now is that we are much more connected through technology and so everything can appear to be worse or more overwhelming (which, objectively, it is not). I make a habit of limiting my news and social media intake and try to observe the fear, non-judgmentally, instead of participating in it. This is a choice that each of us has the power to exercise and it’s a choice that uplifts the collective instead of taking us all down in a toilet-paper frenzy.

My almost-three-year-old niece has an adventurous spirit and often says to me, “Don’t worry, Aw Daw (Aunt Dawn), I save the day!” And then she’ll repeat her own mantra: I Am Brave and Strong. I love to witness how she has already outgrown so many of her early fears and I hope that her spirit stays wild and free as she walks through this world. We are all brave and strong; let’s keep reminding each other of that.

GOING HOME

I’m about seven weeks back into my daily Yoga practice, which has been the greatest gift, after a grueling several months where I was physically unable to exercise or move much at all. I missed my practice more than anything and still feel immense gratitude each evening when I step onto the mat. I’m so excited to be able to participate in the annual Yoga with Adriene 30 day challenge again.

For the past couple of years it was simply about being able to complete the challenge and structure a daily practice. Now, it has become a heightened continuation of a firmly established habit. I encourage anyone who needs shifting, growth, balance, healing, love, or connection in their life to give this January challenge a try. I believe that it will be one of the best gifts you could ever give yourself and a beautiful way to start a new decade. It’s suitable for all ages, abilities and body types; it’s completely free, and you can sign up here. See you on the mat!

THE SACRED ACTOR

Masters

For me, acting is almost a spiritual discipline. First of all, the visualizations and meditations resemble spiritual techniques, which stem from what acting originally was; the original actors were priests and priestesses in the temples. For the real actor, I think it’s a spiritual calling. I don’t see it being talked about much anymore, but I think many good actors experience their art that way.

~ Ellen Burnstyn

In the middle of this, my year of everything-falling-to-pieces, the one beautiful shard has been how deeply my spiritual practice has grown. I ran across this quote in an old notebook and was struck by how relevant it still feels to me. I haven’t acted in many months, and I miss it every day, but I finally understand why acting has always felt so important to me, and why I feel so empty when I’m not able to engage with it.

Acting has been the one arena in my life where I feel completely myself. It never feels like work, I lose all track of time, and I feel joyful and fulfilled. I am in the zone and out of my head when I get to channel my creativity. It’s also been one of the biggest challenges I’ve ever encountered but it’s a challenge that thrills me.

This year, I’ve realized that acting has been my spiritual path–which, like any spiritual path, is meant to bring me closer to the Divine. However, because my other spiritual practices have deepened, I can now experience daily, without “doing” anything, what I used to only experience while acting. It is the sense of aliveness, presence, and connection to Consciousness. The amazing thing about it is that I don’t need a stage, a set, or to book an audition. I can experience this no matter what I’m doing, no matter where I am, and no matter what is going right or wrong at the time.

When an actor trains with Sense Memory, she encounters an object without any pre-conceived labels or judgements. The actor may sit in a chair and hold a cup. She observes the cup as if for the first time. She describes its qualities to her fellow classmates: it’s made of glass, it’s medium height, it has raised ridges, there’s a wide rim, it’s a bit heavy, the light comes through it, I see a distorted image if I hold it up to my eyes. Only after the actor has fully explored the glass objectively does she begin to attach personal meaning and a story. But, without that personal story, she is looking through the lens of Presence, and so even something as ordinary as describing a glass has become a totally spiritual practice.

Memorizing lines is akin to meditating and chanting with a Mantra. One focuses the mind on a word or series of words in order to keep random thoughts from taking over. At first there is effort involved but, finally, one goes into a sort of trance; instead of continually calling your attention back to the Mantra, you simply ride the waves of the sound of the words. I use a memorization technique I call “walk the lines.” Whenever I have large chunks of text to memorize, I go for a long walk outside, all the while chanting the text. Eventually, the rhythm of the words drops into the rhythm of my body, and they become one thing.

The practice of a Mantra is not about the Mantra itself. It’s meant for the moment when your mind suddenly releases thought and the Mantra disappears, without your knowing it, into No-Thought. Then, you’re in a state of union with the Divine, for as long as you allow yourself to remain there. When an actor’s lines have dropped into her body, she doesn’t think about them anymore; they simply arise out of her as if they are her.

Anything we do in life can be our spiritual practice: meditation, Yoga, relationships, sports, housework, nature, religious rituals, creativity–you name it. As long as we don’t mistake the practice for the Divine Itself, it doesn’t really matter what it is. I’m finding comfort in the knowledge that, even when I can’t participate in the practice I love the most, I can still experience the core of what I love about it, which is simply the formless quality without the form attached.

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