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Inner Disarmament: Stepping Stones to Peace

In these tumultuous times filled with such vitriol, I find myself feeling absolutely powerless. The unending waves of hatred, armed conflict, violence and xenophobia wash over me. What is within my power? The grand scale of the challenges seems to make any action I take seem inconsequential.

By nature I am an irrepressible optimist, and I find some comfort in something the Dalai Lama said: If you desire world peace, practice inner disarmament. Inner disarmament is not a part of our language or culture. Over the years I have struggled with what it means and how to cultivate it. I have been contemplating and really noticing my own anger and narrow-mindedness when it shows up.

At the time of the US invasion of Iraq, I realized there was something afoot in my interior life when I dreamed I was having a friendly discussion with George W. Bush over dinner. A wild idea no doubt for me as a confirmed progressive who was dead set against the invasion. The dream stunned and surprised me and opened for me some new way of seeing. At the dinner table this man ("W"), whom I had categorized and put in a box walled off by my own judgment and criticism was, after all, just a human being, doing what he thought best. The mere fact of our differences of opinion did not change our shared humanity. I listened. He listened. I was shocked that he actually was re-thinking his policy. (Oh, if only I were this powerful!) There was a startling take-away for me.

I realize that when certain feelings arise in me (hate, anger, and -- what is all too easy -- turning people into "others" for any reason), I lose my ability to hear what is being said, to understand the emotions present in the discussion, and to even imagine common ground. So real change starts with me and with each of us.

The first step for me is to notice the feelings and identify them. If I am really paying attention, I can catch myself before the feelings are in control of my mind, my mouth, and my actions. If I find myself wrapped up in a self-righteous story or justification for why someone else is wrong, I know I have to stop. If and when I truly listen, I am often surprised and moved by what I hear.

Does inner disarmament interest you? Consider this first step: Pause when you move towards or are already in a state of anger or agitation towards another person. In this moment of pausing, notice what you are feeling. You do not need to change anything but as you listen, recognize that your thoughts are colored by this emotion and just see what happens.

You may be tempted to dismiss this idea as naive. I am not saying there are not hateful words and behavior. But that is not all that is there. And if act from our own anger or hatred, there is no chance we can change anything.

 

 

 

 

Put Your Own Oxygen Mask on First!

 

If you are on an airplane in an emergency situation, you may not save yourself or help anyone else if you don't put your own oxygen mask on first. And the flight attendants remind us of this on every flight. But are we really listening? Do we know we have to take care of ourselves first or risk perishing?

This is true for us as teachers, healthcare professionals, therapists, and caregivers, even though most of us don't learn this in our training and educational programs. We are too often focused on having answers and solutions and on giving to and serving others. Just yesterday I was reminded by a friend the we can neglect self-care because of our work or involvement in almost any activity.

What I notice in myself is that it is all too easy to give and not to take the time I need to replenish myself. I find myself exploring how to choose the right amount of effort to expend and committing and then re-committing to make the time for self-care.

My colleague Jim Gordon, MD, the Founder and Director of The Center for Mind-Body Medicine, always starts his lectures with the fact that the heart of good health starts with self-care. Contrary to popular opinions, self-care is not selfish. If we are depleted, we will eventually have nothing to offer anyone else. We are like the gas tank that is running on empty or the battery that is dead.

We must save the only life we can save*, our own! I write this blog first as a reminder to myself. Secondly I hope that those of you who know me will stop me if you see me charging ahead, full speed, heedless of my self-care. Please remind me to slow down, to take care of myself, and, perhaps, to do less. And, of course, to breathe!

My Viniyoga Journey

I had been practicing Yoga for many years when I happened into a Viniyoga class at my transplant center in Seattle late in 2001. I was quite ill and felt extremely sick and I had no idea exactly what this Yoga was – it seemed like not much was happening. But at the end of the class I felt profoundly still and filled with a sense of calm and balance that did not match my external circumstances at all. I knew then, that if I survived and could create the opportunity to learn more, I would.

I have been studying and practicing Viniyoga with Gary Kraftsow since 2004. I know it has been an essential element in my own healing, and I see the amazing impact a Viniyoga class or home practice can have for my students.

So What Is Viniyoga

Our view is…the breath is the primary tool through which you will be able to access what’s actually happening in your body. It’s the primary tool to activate change in your structure at a deep level, and it’s the primary tool to link your conscious awareness to the process of change.

So think of the breath as an internal flashlight, microscope, viewfinder, that helps you discover what’s going on.

Gary Kraftsow, Founder  and Director of the American Viniyoga Institute.

Viniyoga implies differentiation, adaptation, and appropriate application. It is a school of Yoga developed by my teacher, Gary Kraftsow, based on the teachings transmitted to him by T. Krishnamacharya and T.K.V. Desikachar of Madras, India.

Viniyoga asana is distinguished by the following:

  • Breath is the medium for movement in asana and we adapt the pattern of breath to create different effects.
  • We emphasize function over form in asana and we use the science of adaptation to achieve different results in postures.
  • We move in and out of poses not just holding in a static position.
  • We employ a sophisticated art and science of combining sequences of different orientation, length, and intensity to match the intention and context of each practice.

Viniyoga draws from the many tools of Yoga, not just asana, so a class experience will always incorporate breath awareness and some kind of guided relaxation or meditation and often chanting. Your experience in a class is not just that of using your body. Even in a class setting, each student can discover his or her own potential and connect with that sense of interior well-being which is available to each of us.