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Tenderizing the Heart
25 October 2015

Tenderizing the Heart
25 October 2015

Tenderizing the Heart

Yesterday I went out to the trails behind my house to meet a friend for a late afternoon 5K run through the state park. (And by “run” I mean “jog and gab.”) Jean’s meeting ran late though, and she couldn’t make it. And my first feeling, after disappointment about going alone, was irritation that I didn’t have my ipod with me and would have to go back to the house to get it. That, or run without the distracting offerings of Radioloab or This American Life, or some other podcast.

As many of you may know, I have been participating through this month in an online “Mindfulness Summit” and listening daily to talks and guided meditations by various teachers, writers, and practitioners. Steeping in this stuff daily, I had the presence of mind to check my first impulse and instead take a mindful minute, and I decided this was an opportunity to see if I could bring mindfulness to the experience of running. To be open and curious about what that experience might be like. Jack Kornfield says that simply showing up to practice and be in that space of listening inward tenderizes the heart. And who wouldn’t want that? 

One of the things I have been so enjoying about the summit is the assertion by many of its presenters that there are all sorts of ways to practice mindfulness… from formal seated practices, to informal practices throughout the day, to mindfulness practiced in the context of walking, eating, listening, etc. So: “mindful running” (jogging) it would be.

The first thing I noticed with neither earbuds in my ear nor a chatty friend by my side, was the sound of my breath and I found myself doing what I often do in yoga, anchoring my attention through that particular sound. Then I noticed the myriad additional sounds… my shoes sweeping through the dried leaves, the softer thud of my feet where the path was clearer, the distant whistle of the ref at a TA soccer game, the sudden rustle of a chipmunk scrambling at the foot of a tree. 

Soon after, I noticed that I was looking almost continuously down at my feet. And I realized that I almost always look down at my feet when I am walking or running. Curious, I picked up my head and was instantly encircled by the glorious hues of Autumn. I look at these colors all the time; I’m surrounded by them, as we all are, but now I really let myself become absorbed in the colors, their subtlety and variety. The lush greens of conifers in my immediate pathway, the wash of reds and yellows further away. Riveted, I carefully lifted my gaze all the way overhead to a breathtaking view of treetops backed by the clear blue of late afternoon, the dazzling glare of a sun slipping toward the horizon. I noticed I had slowed to almost a walk.

On exploration, I felt my own profound discomfort in looking anywhere but down, when I am in motion. I wanted to articulate to myself what this feeling is like. Whenever I look straight ahead or up while I am walking or someone is walking toward me, I experience a distinct oscillopsia, a result of losing my right side balance nerve to brain tumor surgery 4 years ago. This means that when I am moving and looking forward, everything in my field of vision “jumps” wildly, up and down. It’s a little like looking at handheld film footage. Imagine running but looking not at the world in front of you, but at someone else’s go-pro footage taken during a run. It is interesting and a little crazy, and I noticed that I have unsettled, negative associations—a subtle and icky sense of my own frailty. It definitely undermines my sense of security and balance, and makes me feel vulnerable.

Sticking with my intention of mindfulness—moment to moment awareness with openness and curiosity and a sense of compassion—I decided to stay with the experience and those unpleasant feelings, and see if I could learn something about myself. Because, really, in this paradise we live in, who wants to go through the day looking down? So, I leaned into the experience of discomfort. I explored it. When I “forgot” and found myself looking down, I consciously lifted my gaze up again. And I’m really glad I did. It did get easier. It’s so ridiculously gorgeous up there at eye level. Shame to waste Autumn’s beauty on the ground floor only. I don’t know what it will feel like next time I am out, but I plan to leave my ipod at home at least some of the time, and I look forward to immersing myself once again in the experience itself.

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The building itself was renovated to be energy efficient, and the room is moderately heated in cooler seasons to promote a good, healthy sweat, but not heated to an excessive or wasteful degree. There are cubbies in our large office to store your personal belongings, a spacious changing room, a comfy sofa and a water cooler (please bring a water bottle to fill, to cut down on paper cup usage). Two nice, clean bathrooms are located just down the hall. There are also cubbies in the studio itself for valuables, which students are welcome to use. We have a full lending library of yoga books, and encourage students to borrow freely. Gift certificates are available for purchase in any amount.

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Please do not wear perfume or any strong scent

People with allergies can be very sensitive to scent. Also, lots of people sweating in a closed space is less stinky than lots of people all wearing different brands of perfume or deodorant.

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Keep your eyes on your own practice

The practice is richer when it happens from the inside out. It’s not about comparing yourself with the person next to you. Be present with your own experience.

Be kind and loving to yourself

Rest when you need to. Honor where you are in your practice. Use the energy of those around to inspire, not diminish, you. Remember: you are perfect just as you are now, and yoga is meant to enhance that understanding and let that perfection shine. Have fun!

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