Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Copyright Lance Kinseth, Wisdom Gate/Chimon, 16"x32, 2004
A YOGA PRACTICE session that is completely restorative tends to be a very occasional, special practice, often on a weekend, and possibly lasting longer than a routine yoga class. It may have the feeling of being like an occasional brief retreat or it may be a strong part of a full weekend retreat.
Regular, ongoing restorative practice is a rarity. It may be a multi-week class that is oriented toward a specific population with medical concerns. And such a program can show self-reports of improvement and an ability following the program for participants to self-regulate physiological responses to some degree.
Regular, ongoing restorative practice that occurs in yoga studios offers a regular practice of calmness that is more active than meditation. And participants are attracted to it for the opportunity for a deeper relaxation that comes to have value in one’s health routine.
But regular, ongoing restorative practice can offer something deeper and transformative. Restorative practice is a very internal practice. It can calm the constant internal chatter [chittavritti: vritti—chattering, chitta—mind]. Initially, it attends to the conscious chattering of more everyday concerns [e. g., “What I need to do,” “What happened today”]. And calming this chatter is almost universally reported by participants to be beneficial. And because this experience of calmness can feel extraordinary, the benefits derived from restorative practice may be sensed to have been achieved. However, this can miss one of the real opportunities of restorative practice.
When restorative practice becomes a regular discipline, it can go beyond softening the “daily” chatter to can attend to subliminal chatter. This “chatter” involves admonitions from deep indelible memories that have become “scripts” that guide our everyday actions. When we try to change, try as hard as we may, we seem to soon return to old patterns. These patterns can be beneficial, but they may contain “scars” [samskara] that not only keep us from optimal health, but continually reinforce old habits and lead us away from health altogether. Traditional fitness exercise and body-mind practices increase awareness of routine responses that we desire to change. The calmness and quietness of restorative practice offers the opportunity to also listen for underlying guides that erroneously validate these habitual responses, to then modify them.
Modification of one’s core “life script” to be optimally healthy and thriving rather than surviving can come from regular calm practice. Authentic “needs”—that which we really need to optimize--are increasingly heard and we respond to these needs rather than to acting out a memory. We begin to develop a resonance between what we experience that we need and that which we begin to do.
Rather than just enjoy calming down and taking a good, long, occasional respite, regular restorative practice offers us a method for self-directed deep change that is experienced as tranquil freedom, expansive connection and identity, authentic kindness, and compassion.
Saturday, January 22, 2011
Copyright Lance Kinseth, Unmoving Wisdom/Fudoki, 2011
AS THE NUMBER OF sessions of restorative yoga accrues, there is a deepened, direct experience of relaxation in sessions and, gradually, the presence of calmness in everyday life. Relaxation begets a calmness that is not just psychological respite from the fast pace of modern life, but rather is a real physiological response that carries forward into the everyday. With practice, brain chemistry is gradually modified so that one is less reactive, experiences of calmness in everyday life increase, and the ability to intentionally generate a calm state strengthens. Across time, other rich qualities are likely to emerge, such as a sense of purpose. Events that seemed insignificant may begin to be perceived as somehow meaningful and life enriching. The fall of one insignificant leaf or the smile or comment of another person may be more deeply attended. This meaningfulness may even swell to a broadening sense of wonder, awe, humility, compassion and gratitude.
Relaxation begets calmness that, in turn, begets awareness. Calmed, one opens to new experiences, and breaks habit and routine.
But there is another wonderful step to be taken: Relaxation that provokes calmness that, in turn, expands awareness may, in turn, offers the opportunity for transformation. With transformation, life becomes qualitatively different. The questions one brings to experience dramatically change. A sense of self-identity may markedly expand. Events that, heretofore, seemed external become interwoven and interpenetrating, and even come inside one’s identity.
With transformation, our lives are experienced to be expression of larger processes and in the service of those processes. Our activities become a multifold path wherein all parts—bodywork, vocation, art, care-giving, and so forth, like facets of a jewel, increasingly may reflect the same purpose from different angles. With transformation, there is a strong identity with sense of being-ness as well as being creatural or deeply natural rather than being exclusively defined by personality traits and roles. And perceptions may expand from simply seeing experiences as other "objects" to see "process." Then, that which is really occurring may be what Thich Nhat Hanh terms "interbeing" or what R. D. Laing terms "inter-experience." A spring blossom occurs because of the tilt of the Earth back toward the sun, and a tree is a "rivering" or streaming of sun and Earth's hydrology and minerals.
While “transformation” may seem to equate with states of ecstasy wherein one might perceive “oneness,” it is perhaps most authentic and healthy when it involves an enduring change in everyday life as-it-is.
The heart of yoga is, finally, neither about physical exercise nor meditation. Yoga is not, finally, even about yoga. If optimal, even yoga transforms itself to the point of transcending itself. As a result of quiet practices, various spiritual disciplines meet on a common plateau.
The stillness and quietness of restorative and yin yoga can be particularly valuable as a gateless gate, becoming a threshold of stillness and quietness that is markedly different from the fast pace of everyday life. The quietness and stillness can open a remarkable pathway that is marked along the way by “cairns” [i.e., markers] of relaxation, calmness, and awareness that consummate in transformation.
A grand goal of “connecting with the cosmos or universe” can be experienced along the pathway through several realizable psycho-spiritual benefits that are all facets of the other:
· Listening to the body for cues to address physical needs [stress reduction, fitness, nutrition],
· Accessing and training intuition [“inner cellular intelligence” operant in the body’s complex design and ongoing function],
· Becoming more observational of experience rather than judgmental/analytical [seeing/sensing fully rather than reacting—to open a gate rather than construct a barrier],
· Feeling very general states captured by metaphors such as “calm heart” and “peaceful spirit” and “eloquence” and “grace” and “flow,”
· Having experiences of “integration” that are not just ecstatic and momentary but are increasingly expressed in everyday actions, and
· Gradual activation of a lasting “transformation” of core patterns rather than just rest.
Thursday, January 20, 2011
Copyright Lance Kinseth, The Way Of Light/Kodo, 2011
IN 1971, as a graduate student in sociology at the University of Iowa, I had the privilege of working with Dr. George Hillery Jr. whose specialty focused on the sociology of community. At that time, we were researching individuals’ sense of “freedom” in restrictive communities. I was involved in surveys in a prison and monastery. There was an obvious freedom of alternatives [which were restricted in prisons and monasteries], but also, and importantly, a freedom of discipline [as was the case in monasteries where participation was by choice].
This is sort of a complicated way of giving background in coming to a sense of presence with “light.” Because of our research, I was permitted to be in the cloistered part of the Trappist monastery of New Melleray Abbey near Dubuque, Iowa. I was struck by the sense of simplicity, especially in the cloistered areas. Relaxed by the visual simplicity and then walking a sunlit interior corridor, I was taken by the patterns of sunlight on the concrete walls. A process I had seen throughout my life on any sunny day was suddenly different. The rectangles of sunlight were like living paintings of light that were constantly, quietly changing.
We all have such patterns on the walls of our living spaces and wherever we go, but they are likely to go unnoticed. But even in the midst of complexity, there these patterns are, awaiting us. Even though it is commonplace, this light is not unlike th general reaction to Robert Ryman’s all-white paintings. They are difficult to take seriously and to spend time with, because of the way that they are overwhelmed by almost anything else. And yet, awareness and interest, followed by an appreciation of many events like this light can be a measure of our calmness. It is a measure of our capacity to dial down the fast-pace stimuli that is our everyday. Light is “worthless” in our value system, but it is the core work of the world, and it gives us our very life, starlight—deadly nuclear fission/fusion at the right distance—a few minutes away--becoming biomass, becoming a strong part of our bodies.
In January 2011, I stumbled on this light again in the late morning, in the bright sunlight patterns on the wall of a room in my house. Perhaps odd to some, I slowed for a time, and then offered a bow of gratitude to this way of light. I stuck my hand in it, and played shadow games as I did as a child. Still, why this piece in relation to restorative-yin yoga? I feel that I was readied, due in part to a strong practice of restorative yoga that had also provoked some time spent in seated and walking meditation. These perceptions are the gifts of calmness and quietness.
There is the joy of childhood still within us that plays shadow games, and there is the monk’s spiritual joy in acknowledging light as transmitting insight and life itself. This light is a miracle in the way that starlight makes the world—makes its atoms and its biomass. And perhaps even more miraculous, this light is not just external. On a deeper level, it is within. In a very real, deep physical way, we are made of light, and when deeply penetrated, we can find it emanating from everything everywhere. Thomas Cleary, in Zen Essence, translates fourteenth century Ch’an [Zen] master Yuansou’s admonition:
The mountains, rivers, earth, grasses, trees, and forests, are always emanating a subtle, precious light, day and night, always emanating a subtle, precious sound, demonstrating and expounding to all people the unsurpassed ultimate truth.
It is just because you miss it right where you are, or avoid it even as you face it, that you are unable to attain actual use of it.
Sunday, January 16, 2011
Copyright Lance Kinseth, A Prayer Of Flowers, 24x30, acrylic/canvas, 2004
RESTORATIVE-YIN YOGA involves supported body/mind relaxation. This is gentle, gentle yoga that promotes deep relaxation for stress reduction while also stretching and rehabilitating connective tissue.
Restorative yoga is often practiced as an occasional retreat or respite from regular yoga practice. Restorative-Yin yoga is designed to be a regular, often weekly/twice weekly, ongoing practice.
This is a good place to begin a program of exercise, or for stress reduction, as well as for high performance relaxation training. Regular practice can contribute to a variety of healthful physiological changes. Participants can leave this class feeling calm and tranquil, and extend this into everyday life.
RESTORATIVE YOGA allows the body to be totally supported by using props to relax muscles and body tissue to heal or restore or liberate an innate health rather than to “wear out” through positive physical stress for fitness, flexibility or stamina. In restorative practice, props also go beyond support to cradle and swaddle and essentially contain the outline of the body. Poses that are common to all yoga, such as forward and backward bends and inverted poses and twists, are typically held longer in restorative yoga, because support allows poses to be less stressful. Balance and stretching muscles that people often find difficult in yoga are largely absent. Yoga poses [asanas] are “amped-down” to be “restorative” and to create a place of rest and meditation.
Not just relaxation after exercise, restorative yoga offers important, active training to access and stimulate physiological relaxation responses. These relaxation responses that are stimulated by selected poses concentrate on actively opening vascular, lymphatic, nervous systems and energy systems. Regular restorative yoga practice can contribute to a variety of healthful physiological changes that may extend into everyday life, such as reduced blood pressure and reduced brain arousal.
Giving over some time to relaxation in exercise is perhaps the most difficult aspect of restorative practice. Often, yoga training tends to emphasize “core fitness” that may mimic the busy-ness and intensity that are now central to modern life. Unlike most other yoga classes, gentleness and stillness and contentment [santosha] are emphasized in restorative practice. Time is given over to listening to the body and deepening experience to encourage optimal health, thriving vs. surviving, and an authentic transformation of experience from being body-mind work to body-mind-and care-of-the-spirit.
The addition of YIN YOGA adds an ability to concentrate attention to connective tissue that may be only secondarily addressed in exercise, but that is a primary source of chronic health problems especially with age. Particular attention is directed toward bringing the lower lumbar fascia and hips to a gentle physical edge to open, strengthen and increase their flexibility. When combined with restorative yoga, this is yin yoga done with props or support to retain a strong relaxation element. Yin yoga adds focus on postures that exercise connective tissues [i.e., ligaments and fascia], with special emphasis on the connective tissues of the lower back and hips. Especially with age, even athletes may be limited and even debilitated by connective tissue and joint problems in the hips and lower back. A sequence of Restorative-Yin poses tends to involve a pose that stretches the lumbar/hip region that is followed by a counter-pose that stretches the affected region in an opposite direction. Gentle inversion poses and spine twists are also added. Across time, yin yoga can gently stretch and rehabilitate connective tissue and joint flexibility.
In RESTORATIVE-YIN YOGA, The increased time spent in gentle poses also creates an opportunity to expand body-mind experiences to include spiritual/”being-ness” dimensions. The calmness and quietness of the practice opens is a rich opportunity to listen to the body and sensations around the body rather than focus on doing something to the body in a effort to create “health.” Across time, the meditative quality of this practice may touch an intuitive, inherent health within that generates joy and wonder and eloquence and contentment and compassion. This is a penultimate, high-end outcome of restorative-yin practice.
Copyright Lance Kinseth, Dark Radiance, 2011
RESTORATIVE-YIN YOGA involves supported body/mind relaxation. This is gentle, gentle yoga that promotes deep relaxation for stress reduction while also stretching and rehabilitating connective tissue.
AND YET, THIS DESCRIPTION is facile—too easy. Within the practice of restorative-yin yoga, there is the opportunity for more than its deep, wondrous relaxation and physical and mental restoration. In restorative-yin retreats where poses might be held for longer periods of time than is feasible in weekly practices, there is an opportunity for the deep moments of kevala kumbhaka or breathless “perfectly peaceful pause.” And there is even more. Going beyond body-mind to spirit, even in weekly practices, one offering of this practice is a direct body-mind experience of the second yogic Niyama codified by Patanjali long past:
SANTOSHA--Contentment, the ability to flow in life and not struggle,
to be content with where one is.
Santosha/santosa is a personal observance practice that can be experienced in the present moment rather than as a goal. As each practice session of restorative-yin yoga progresses, the deep relaxation and calmness/stillness of the session typically elicits reports from participants of experiences beyond relaxation, such as “tranquility” or “contentment.” And as the number of practice sessions build, this practice quality of contentment within life-as-it-is can extend beyond the session into everyday life rather than be only a special practice.
Restorative-yin practice is different from a quest for personal advancement/achievement or strength/flexibility. As a gentle, quiet practice, restorative-yin yoga offers the experience of an exquisite state of mind that is accessible to anyone in one’s life as it is. Pursuit of achievement dissolves into listening to the wisdom of the body, and there is time for a deep appreciation of life as it is to flower from routine to eloquence.
The deep heart of life as it is—spirit, being-ness—attends to internal awareness of that which is not constantly changing. Bringing mind to body for extraordinary fitness pales in comparison to touching spirit. Joy and sadness and anger and boredom may appear and disappear as well as fitness, but heart-mind remains the same. Restorative-yin yoga offers a place of centering that is so deep that it is out-reaching—inclusive and integrative rather than exclusive. And it is heartfelt and ordinary rather than intellectual and special.
The santosha that may be experienced in each session does not instantly make life thereafter content. Santosha is real work--internal reaction training—in attending to the heart of life. Santosha is not a passive bearing of whatever comes. Santosha is a vital, living, active personal observance of life that recognizes acceptance and contentment with our condition and our emotions. It also opens an intuitive recognition of our lives as harmonizing with universal process and strength. Restorative-yin yoga aspires to offer a direct, authentic experience of santosha that can then be a guide in the less quiet, distracting complexity of everyday life so that contentment with one’s larger life as-it-is can be experienced. Perhaps by coming to this quiet yet strong practice, the meaningfulness of a leaf falling or the smile of another can be given some of the time that it richly deserves.
Copyright—Lance Kinseth, Great Calm, 2011
A new year—
Fresh snow robes old buddah—
Perhaps with this fresh sense of beginning,
We can aspire to come to body-mind practices with beginner’s mind.
Coming fresh and without expectation, we begin to listen more deeply to the body and to the space around it. We observe body sensations changing like passing clouds—joy, boredom, even anger—but something may be glimpsed that is somehow enduring and unshakable. Mind, it is said—like sky—remains the same.
To touch this mind, we begin to slow our fast pace, to rest and to become quiet, calming the senses. If we are fortunate, we directly touch something that does not change, something that is unbreakable, inviolate—something that touches everything.
This is the heart-practice of restorative yoga.
In a restorative practice session, with little effort, we are offered santosha—a state of contentment. And then, to carry forward santosha into our everyday lives becomes both our task and our pleasure.
To this restorative practice, we may add yin yoga—the quiet way—when it intuitively calls out to us, pressing our body gently, slowly, opening, strengthening.