In our mindfulness groups this month we have been working with energy. It is one of the ways that we can purify the mind and heart. It’s actually a coincidence that this is our topic this month but it does seem incredibly appropriate! Perhaps it is a meaningful coincidence.
Summer is such an incredibly energetic time of year. The sun, the source of so much of our energy, is high in the sky and here in Alaska, hardly ever sets! It can be quite overwhelming and in fact I hear (and see) people exhibit more exhaustion now than at any other time of the year. (In the winter it tends to be more lethargy than exhaustion that challenges energy.)
In yoga, the art and science of connection, energy is called Prana. This is same Sanskrit word that is used for breath. Prana is our life force, our energy, our breath.
Yogis have been known to say that life is measured not in years but in breaths… therefore, if we are looking to extend our lives we should extend each breath. If we are looking to improve our lives, we might improve each breath.
As a mindful therapist I often ask clients: “Are you breathing?” Often, they tell me “No!” We begin here with awareness.
A full cycle of breath includes 4 phases. There are 2 phases between movements where we don’t necessarily feel breath moving in or moving out (this is where we are when we don’t think we’re breathing.) We are however, most definitely, if alive, still breathing!
After the lungs are full, there is a moment when they hold on to the breath. The ribs have spread out, the diaphragm pulls down, and the shoulders lift up to make space. Breath is transforming and its components are moving into our bloodstream and on to the whole body. There is also a moment after the exhalation where there is not obvious movement. During this time the ribs, diaphragm, and abdominals all help to push and hold air out.
Like this our energy moves. It comes to us and we hold onto it. We extract what we need. It leaves and we have a moment before it comes again.
The four phases of the breath: inhale, pause, exhale, pause, also correlate nicely to the four seasons. This framework is the foundation of our seasonal courses. Please join us for sun salutes on the Solstice and for the next Equinox course this fall.
To work with energy, begin working with awareness. Investigate breathing. Try breathing more slowly. Try making each part of the breath longer (*if you are under a doctor’s care and/or have any concerns about your respiratory or cardiac health, please consult with a professional before changing your natural breathing pattern.) You will probably notice that you have preferences. There may be a part of the breath that is “easy” to extend and another that may be difficult or even impossible.
Then, extend awareness and inquiry to the seasons… are there any correlations? Do you have preferences? Is there a season that is “easy” or another that is “difficult?”
Next, see if you can find a mid-range interval, something between the length of a breath and that of a year… maybe it’s a day or a week or a month. See if you can distinguish the energetic phases during this period too. You might also find preferences and challenges here.
Sometimes, it’s quite enough to just realize that there are natural phases. It can save us from the suffering that comes when we think that something is “wrong” when energy wanes or when we feel overwhelmed.
Other times, an increased awareness of natural rhythms, our preferences and challenges, can help us see how we influence our experience with what we consume, expect, or abandon. And, can help to motivate us to make an effort to support a positive change.
To optimize your energetic experience and thereby purify the mind and heart (because, let’s face it, no one is at their best when they’re too busy or exhausted) pay attention to what replenishes and what depletes your energy. Try to be relatively objective. It might be your very favorite activity or even your very favorite person that depletes you sometimes!
See if you can help establish guidelines that will help to protect your energy so that it can accumulate. Recognize the phases related to letting go and holding back. Direct available energy (only) towards what you value. Restrain it from wandering off and/or from feeding something that you don’t want to grow. This applies to behavior, words, and even thoughts. Enjoy!
“Putting appropriate energy into what you know is worthy will give rise to joy.”
Excerpt From: Sucitto, Ajahn. “Parami, Ways to Cross Life’s Floods.” Amaravati Publications, 2012-11-17.