During our embodied awareness sessions at the Community House we start and end with a breathing exercise. Lately we have been using the 11 minute Wim Hoff technique.
He is a fascinating guy. He speaks clearly to this importance of embodied awareness, or presence here. youtu.be/fC5vyMERa94
He suggests that most of us live our lives being entirely in our thoughts. Hence, we disconnect to those parts of our being and even our brain that are related to emotions and embodied experiences. His realization came after swimming in a frozen pond, and feeling more alive and present than ever before. He went on to repeat the experience and found himself further filled with life energy.
His basic premise fits nicely with what I understand about the brain from my own studies in neuroscience. I had studied the attention systems in the brain, and studied both schizophrenia and attention deficit "disorder". Both of these psychological states of being have terrible issues with focused attention. My research was focused on the biochemistry, and how we can bring people into a focused state through the use of drugs.
In the work in schizophrenia, I looked at the effects of nicotine. My belief is that nicotine actually increases the sensory drive. If you look at the brain, it has multiple states of being. In one state we are dreamy and creative. In another state we are focused on what is right in front of us. In that part of the brain responsible for bringing the sensory input into the conscious part of awareness, there are also different states. One that lets the internal imagination rule, and another that more systematically represents the external world. So nicotine acts to increase the power of the external input.
For those smokers out there, you may have the feeling that nicotine is "grounding".
Wim Hoff talks about the power of his techniques to bring people back into their body, and how this can eliminate depression and help people with trauma. This makes perfect sense. For people who have experienced trauma, there is often the experience of disassociation. The person had developed the ability to disconnect from their physical situation in order to escape into their mind. Autism may be an extreme form of this escape, and schizophrenics are definitely trapped in their own imaginary world.
Breathing or intense sensory experiences help bring the person back in touch with their embodied selves. Notice how autistic children love spicy food, super sour pickles, or strong sensory experiences. I believe they are having difficulty incarnating.
So the importance of connecting to the physical is not really about having a nice body, or even a clean bill of health, these are of course by-products. Rather, connecting to our physical being we enter more deeply into who we are. We activate those deep brain regions and begin to thrive. Our experience of life becomes more powerful, and our will to live a full life grows with each embodied breath.
So give it a try for a week. Start your day out with some Wim Hoff breathing.
Here is the three cycles we have been using. Enjoy!
WIM HOFF BREATHING
I completed my first full 108 Sun Salutations, and was highly energized afterwards. In fact, I had difficulty sleeping for two days following the session. Something that was particularly impactful was the manner in which the practice affected my breathing. I was suddenly conscious of my breath. Not just occasionally conscious, but it seemed constantly conscious. This may seem like a good thing, but truthfully, it made me feel like I was laboring, or forcing my breath.
I was reminded about the connection between breathing and consciousness. I recalled all the beautiful experiential knowledge I gained during my experience at UQAM in Somatics. One of our texts, Bone, Breath, and Gesture, edited by Don Hanlon Johnson, really changed my life (check out his interview on breathing if you like here.)
I pulled the book off my bookshelf again, and the section by Carola Speads particularly spoke to me. Carola has written beautifully on finding the natural breath. She encourages us to first notice how the breath responds to all sorts of life experiences (emotional, or mundane). It is changing constantly. The goal is to come back into the state of natural breathing as quickly as possible.
Before we can move into natural breathing, we have to recognize how and when we are breathing in less beneficial ways (i.e. shallow, rapid, breath holding). So first we develop conscious awareness, then we discover how to move back into the deep natural breath through a process of experimentation.
To proceed Carola first distinguishes between breathing experiments, vs exercises.
"Most physical education systems use exercises to achieve their aims. These involve executing predetermined, fixed sequences of activities. Improvement is expected to be gained by repetition. The more you repeat the exercises, the better, supposedly the result.
"Such a mechanistic approach is futile as far as breathing is concerned...Breathing varies continuously, automatically and perfectly adjusting to our activities, provided we do not interfere. Though we often do interfere with these adjustments, we cannot inhibit these changes altogether...
"Breathing...changes not only with physical activity, but also with every emotional impact...
"We cannot 'make' breathing as we can 'make' a movement. Breathing can only be provoked, coaxed, induced to change on its own. This can be done by certain beneficial stimuli. After providing a stimulus we must try to let the reactions to it develop as freely as possible. These reactions will be involuntary. They happen to us: we cannot make them; we can only try to let them through. This way of working with breath is what is called experimenting."
Here is a quick run down on Carola Speads experimenting breath.
1. Provide a light stimulus
2. Allow the body to respond
3. Wait for the body to respond
4. Notice the response
5. Try the stimulus again
6. This is experimenting not exercising
She also reminded me about how my consciousness is directly attached to my breathing. I particularly notice this in relation to the "pause" I remember playing with this during those years and noticing how my thinking found clarity during the pause. It is pretty fascinating.
All breath work, according to Speads, has to occur in a natural way, there can be no forcing, or that could simply make things worse. But for me, recovery of the natural breath came with the use of a few deep sighs whenever I was feeling tension. Thank you Carola.
As this month's focus on the physical body comes to an end, I invite you to begin to bring awareness to your breath. The connection to consciousness is fascinating and uniquely human. More will certainly be revealed.
I have started the 108 Sun Salutations Challenge and so far I have only gotten up to 54. Mainly because I just feel like that is enough. Please join us at the Community House for our Embodied Awareness sessions at 11:11 Monday, Tuesday and Thursday. We have been listening to Rudolf Steiner's How to Know Higher Worlds while stretching. My favorite part though, is that after the stretching we have spent time sharing our thoughts on the book. It is kind of like an embodied book club!
For those engaging in the 108 Sun Salutations challenge who are wanting a way to keep count that may be more meaningful than simply trying to hold a number in your head, I have adapted the prayer of St Francis of Assisi as utilized in the Meditation on Twin Hearts into 27 phrases. Each phrase should be meditated on for one Sun Salutation cycle.
1. Lord, make me an instrument of your peace (feel yourself an instrument, a clear channel)
2. That where there is darkness (sense any darkness in the world-- feel the desire to change it)
3. Let me sow light (feel yourself a beam of light, light flowing out of each fingertip, from the tip of your toes to the top of your head, you are light)
4. That where there is sadness (feel the sadness of those you love, know it can be taken from them)
5. Let me sow joy (feel the joy of all those miracles in your life)
6. That where there is doubt (feel the way doubt holds us back from standing in our abilities, from living in the world we desire)
7. Let me sow faith (feel yourself and all those around you let go of their doubt and stand as open vessels for God's truth to flow through)
8. That where there is despair (feel the despair, care enough to want to change this)
9. Let me sow hope (know that hope is the start of the process of moving towards the light).
10. May every person, every being be blessed (send blessings to the world, every being large and small, even in the higher and lower worlds)
11. With divine LIGHT (sense the light of knowledge, this is your crown chakra)
12. With divine LOVE (feel your heart chakra opening and blessing the world)
13. With divine POWER (feel your solar plexus chakra filled with power, this is our good action in the world, see yourself and other people doing good things together to make the world a better place).
14. May every person every being be blessed (bless the world).
15. With a better life (see the lives of everyone around you becoming better and better).
16. Lord help me seek not to be consoled (help me to let go of seeking solice, let go of self-pity)
17. As to console (see yourself comforting others).
18. To be loved (see yourself letting go of the desperate need for others affections and attentions, knowing that you are love)
19. As to love (open yourself as a channel of love, as you send love out into the world know you are a channel of God's divine love).
20. To be understood (let go of needing to be right, of needing others to see things your way, of needing others to understand you).
21. As to understand (see yourself listening deeply to others, understanding them, and understanding the whole big picture of our shared purpose).
22. For it is in giving (see yourself giving generously of yourself in all areas of your life)
23. That we receive (see how your giving comes back to you many many times as you become a channel for all that you give, including money. Money flows to and through you to do and bring more goodness into the world * you may focus on your basic chakra here as it is associated with financial and material wellbeing)
24. It is in forgiving (see yourself letting go of old hurts and truly forgiving those who have hurt you knowing we are all here to learn and grow)
25. That we are forgiven (see how your letting go opens up to seeing our connectedness, how we all help each other grow).
26. It is in dying (see the material world for what it is, how it is temporary)
27. We are born into eternal peace (see how the spiritual world is eternal).
This sequence can be performed 4 times in order to complete the 108 Sun Salutations.
Here is a great video from Anita Moorjani.
I have had many spiritual teachers (living and dead) during the past 20 years or so. The internet has allowed me to connect to teachers far and near. First there was Rudolf Steiner, then Master Co, disciple of GMCKS, founder of Pranic Healing, then Jennifer McLean, Debra Wayne, Christof Melchizedek, Matt Mantara and Gene Ang, just to name a few.
Gene comes from a scientific background, like I do. His training in neuroscience provided a grounded approach to his spirituality. Rudolf Steiner was also a scientist and philosopher first, and a spritualist second. In fact Steiner called his approach Spiritual Science.
Consciousness Explorations is intended to allow each of us to explore together the qualities of our conscious experience that show us the nature of reality. We are each scientists on the journey of understanding ourselves. We are scientists doing experiments in our own lives. This view of ourselves and our lives has the effect of taking some of the pressure off. As scientists we are objective, observing the effects of our different approaches. If our approach to life doesn't give us the results we are looking for, we redesign the experiment and try again, always taking note of the effects of each effort.
From Pema Chodron's Book "Becoming Bodhisattvas"
When we approach life as an experiment, we're willing to try it this way and that way because, either way, we have nothing to lose. This immense flexibility is something I learned from the example of Trungpa Rinpoche. His enthusiasm enabled him to accomplish an amazing amount in his life. When some things didn't work out, Rinpoche's attitude was "no big deal." If it's time for something to flourish, it will; if it's not time, it won't.
The trick is not getting caught in hope and fear. We can put our whole heart into whatever we do; but if we freeze our attitude into for or against, we're setting ourselves up for stress. Instead, we could just go forward with curiosity, wondering where this experiment will lead. This kind of open-ended inquisitiveness captures the spirit of enthusiasm, or heroic perseverance.
Well, I am at a crossroads with this coursework. People are so pressured by the demands of life (including myself) that it is difficult to find the time to come together for spiritual practices. It is possible, though, through the internet to make these consciousness exploration "experiments" available for individuals whenever they are able. So in the spirit of treating life as an experiment, If one way isn't working, try another. We can always find ways to meet synchronously again as it feels right. Feeling the path into life's most powerful streams is how to live in alignment with the highest expression of one's self.
So for the next 6 months, the activities for the Aligning with Your Divine Blueprint will be posted online. Our first month's exercise will be to notice our physical being, and our physical surroundings. Then each month we will move our attentions to one of the higher subtle bodies (etheric, astral, mental, causal, divine).
Check out the framework of the course here. This page will then lead you to the exercises for the month. Happy New Moon!