The 8 Steps to Living the Truth with Yoga were formulated for Dr. Keith Ablow to parallel his 8 Steps to Living The Truth book. They are a practical application of the Yogic principles handed down by venerated teachers and taught in yoga classes all over the world for the past 2500 years.
Breathe deep and slow. Tune in to your body’s needs and messages. Accept and respect your body as it is today. Reawaken tense or numb places with movement and breath. Focus single pointed attention on the moment. Cultivate stillness. Establish balance and moderation of your life force energy. Practice peace with yourself and others.
1. Breathe deep and slow.
Breath is life. It is the very fuel we rely upon to function. And yet, most people do not breathe well. They breathe shallow, backwards and ineffectively. Stress, trauma, and deep emotion will often cause us to hold our breath unconsciously. This is because when we stop breathing, physiologically, we stop feeling as much. Holding the breath is an unconscious reaction pattern we learn early in life to minimize pain. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work.
When you embark on a process of reawakening your life and your truth, seeking the clarity to create positive life change, the first step in yoga is to reawaken the lungs’ capacity to take in deep life giving breath, and release fully any stress or tension. Air expands and energizes. It activates, organizes and animates our physical bodies.
Breath is considered the link between body, mind and spirit. Conscious control of the breath lets us bring awareness to patterns of holding in the body and begin to release them. Think of it this way…as the body changes, like when we run, our breathing changes. So in reverse the same is true. If we can change our breath, we can change our body, making it calmer and more focused.
There are many breathing techniques in yoga called “pranayama” designed to help us manage our life force energy optimally, but first we must re-learn natural, deep, slow breath. Try it now.
Place your hands on your belly. Take a big breath in. Was it difficult to get a full breath in? Did your belly suck inward? Or did it inflate to allow for the filling up with oxygen? If it sucked inward, you are breathing “backwards.” The belly should open, like a balloon being inflated when we inhale. With that intake of life force energy, we create space and we refuel.
Now the exhale. Hands still on the belly. The abdominal muscles should engage, expelling all the air out of the body, releasing that which you no longer need. With it, you can visualize tension and stress leaving as well. Was it challenging to really let go of the breath? Or did it explode out in a tremendous sigh?
Clean, clear, spacious, open inhale…..calling in clarity for life change.
Deep, complete, relaxing exhale….releasing tension and old patterns.
You may find it difficult to allow the belly to open, soft and round with these big inhales. Culturally, we are taught to “suck it up” and “hold it together.” We are a culture of control. We want to control our feelings so we “hold it in”, making our bellies hard. The old ‘abs of steel’ mentality.
In yoga, the belly is considered our sacred center, responsible for our vitality, creativity and sexuality. Our core represents our center of right energy, from which we extend into the world and create balance in our body and in our life. If this center is being restricted, held back or sucked in, we limit our ability to function effectively on all levels. The muscles and organs need deep oxygen intake to function properly. Our minds require effective breath for clarity of thought and perception. And our ability to stay calm, regulated by the parasympathetic nervous system, is directly affected by how optimally we breathe.
We nourish the body and the mind with the vital energy of the breath. As we open the channel of the breath, the muscles of the chest relax and we are ready to listen to the sacred beat of our heart.
So take another one now. Inhale deep….exhale slow…. Aaahhhhh.
2. Tune in to your body’s needs and messages.
Once we start breathing deeply again, what often happens is that we become aware of our bodies in a whole new way. Sensations that we had effectively ignored, suddenly call out for our attention. In the same way that you are coming to grips with how your past has been affecting your present life, you will begin to notice how the experiences of your life have become stored in your body.
For example, maybe your neck aches every time you have to deal with your ex-wife. Maybe your lower back acts up whenever you become worried about financial responsibilities. Maybe your eyes itch whenever you start thinking about a problem that seems insurmountable. Our issues get stored in our tissues.
Our bodies are incredible communicators. We just need to take the time to listen. Most of the time however, the mind dictates to the body what it should do, when it should work, sleep, eat etc. We either force our bodies into submission or ignore them altogether, until disease or injury forces us to pay attention. Either way, we have disassociated from our bodies and disassociation from something brings loss of respect, meaninglessness and numbness. Without the wisdom of the body we become like machines and we lose the testing ground for truth.
As you embark on living your truth, reconnecting with the wisdom of the body is essential. Focus on each breath and each sensation. Keep coming back to the body as a guide. Listen to what is happening in the body, what it is communicating, what it needs.
Often what arises when we tune in to the body and its messages, (besides the awareness of tension or discomfort) is fear. If danger or physical abuse was present when we were growing up, fear will be present in our body memory. Fear engages us and gets us ready to respond. The body goes into a state of always ‘ready.’ As we mine the past for what experiences are affecting us today, we can come to understand the fear, where it came from, how it has served our survival up until now. Then we can begin replacing fear (which is based on the belief something bad is going to happen)…with faith (which is based on the belief something good is going to happen). We can begin to let the guard down, breathe deep and slow, and relax.
As we listen closely to the body, we begin identifying emotional reactions in terms of body sensations. For example, anger might feel like a tight fist in the belly, sadness might feel like pressure on the chest, resentment might feel like heaviness on the shoulders. Once we have an understanding of how our body communicates feelings and needs, then we have a continual meter of truth.
In the same way that “knowledge is power” in terms of understanding your life story, body knowledge is power in sensing what is the right and appropriate action or movement in any moment of your life. As you spend time listening to the body’s way of delivering messages, you will attune to a deeper wisdom, an intuitive wisdom that will be a powerful measure of how truthfully you are acting and reacting in your life choices. When you are with someone who is not healthy for you to be with, you will feel it in your body. When you are taking a worthwhile risk, you will know it in the very fibers of your physical being.
Sometimes we need to let go of what we think is true, stop defending our beliefs and striving for control, in order to experience a deeper level of wisdom and truth. Can you feel truth and untruth? Where in your body do you sense this? Have you ever known something was true even before your could prove it?
Breathe and listen. Tune in to your body. A host of answers past and present awaits your discovery.
3. Accept and respect your body as it is today.
Let’s say you tune in to your body and all you feel is pain, judgment and frustration. In addition to identifying the shield strategies that you use to numb emotional pain, now is the moment to breathe into deep acceptance of simply ‘what is’ in this moment. Maybe you are 30 pounds overweight. Maybe you have chronic back pain. Maybe you’ve had injuries or surgeries that limit your ability to move freely. That is simply what is in this moment. Yoga teaches us that resisting the truth of the moment just creates more blockage. Anything we cannot wrap acceptance around causes us suffering. Acceptance on the other hand, creates the possibility for release and expansion.
We would all like to be perfectly fit, flexible and balanced. But because of LIFE! things get a bit mucked up. We feel the effects of our experiences as heaviness, low enthusiasm, pain, tension, or just lack of joy. We can only begin from where we are today. And it all starts with the acceptance of our bodies are as they are right now.
Although the body may have issues or disease that because of years of chronic holding will not release, it is possible to feel lighter, freer and more at home in our bodies again. A deeper level of well being and healing fills us as we become more accepting of who we are today. With acceptance, yoga meets us where we are, and we come home to ourselves, breath by breath, movement by movement. Small, manageable changes, lowering the shields, releasing self judgment, respecting the process of change and what it requires.
Maybe no one has ever held you in this much acceptance and compassion. How we relate to and treat our bodies, often reflects how we treat others or how we allow others to treat us. It is your option to continue the past or choose compassion and acceptance for yourself today. Choice is your greatest power. Healing, reprogramming, awakening, creating change. With respect and honoring, we forgive our bodies their weaknesses and allow them to open, strengthen, express and release.
4. Reawaken tense or numb places with movement and breath.
So you are breathing deep and full now, listening to your body’s messages and needs, accepting and respecting where you are in this moment. Once you start opening these channels, of memories and of the body, energy starts to flow and you need a way to direct it so that it doesn’t run out of control. With yoga movement and breath we can learn to work the edge of discomfort in the body and mind, not pulling back in the “reflex reaction to pain.” Now is the time to take the emotions you are feeling and turn them into ‘e-motion’ or ‘energy in motion’, into the momentum you need to chart the course towards your new truth filled life.
As a physical practice, yoga postures strengthen and stretch muscles, support structural alignment, stabilize joints, increase range of motion, build energy, release tension, rehabilitate injury, strengthen the immune system and organ function, alleviate suffering in the body and soul, balance emotions, and create a state of being that is both energized and relaxed.
To receive these benefits however, you must create appropriate goals. To create appropriate goals, you must listen to your body, respect its abilities in this moment and watch when your breath becomes restricted.
Assess what type of yoga movements or breathing techniques make you feel better and which seem to cause strain. Usually if a person is big energy/Type A, the form of practice that will bring balance is a calm, slow, reflective one. If someone tends toward low energy/depressive states, the form that will bring balance is one that creates fire, heat and motivation.
The physical practice of yoga postures is referred to as ‘hatha’ yoga. ‘Ha’ represents the sun, the masculine energy of heat and intellect.‘Tha’ represents the moon, the feminine energy of cooling and intuition. These correspond to the right and left hemispheres of the brain. If there is too much or too little of either form of energy, the system will be unbalanced. When these are in harmony, we are more balanced, and we feel better.
Unlike the physical fitness model of today which gauges health through measurements like muscle vs. fat or performance ability, the yogic criteria of health are lightness and stability in the body (strength, flexibility and range of motion), ability to withstand change, and ability to focus and calm the mind.
Yogic movement and breath is one more tool that can be used for self awareness and self transformation. We investigate through the laboratory of our own bodies. Find your personal balance between challenge and rest. Find the balance between effort and surrender.
Watch for any tensing which occurs in postures and apply acceptance. Watch for any distraction and apply focus. If your breathing becomes compromised anywhere, anytime, you shouldn’t be there.
Stay present with whatever movement or breath you are doing, with non-reactiveness and attunement. And watch how this spacious attitude allows the body and mind to open and release.
5. Focus single pointed attention on the moment.
Another word for attention is mindfulness. The essence of mindfulness is really our relationship to whatever activity we are engaging with, bringing our full attention to each moment. Sounds easy enough, but rarely, in our overcrowded days, do we hold this kind of attention on anything.
Try this experiment. Next time you are drinking a cup of coffee or tea, just drink the coffee or tea. Don’t drive, talk to a friend, read a newspaper, feed the cat, or catch up on emails. Just sit and savor the taste, smell, feeling, temperature and experience of the tea. Experiment at different times during the day with this single pointed attention. When you are brushing your teeth, just brush your teeth. When you are talking to a friend, focus completely on the conversation. When you are cooking dinner, just cook dinner, nothing else.
By multi-tasking we miss much of the richness inherent in each moment. We also miss the subtle cues our body sends when we are out of alignment with our truth. This single pointed attention will keep you tuned in to your inner truth. It will also strengthen your focus so that you may break free of habituated patterns of thought and behavior that keep you trapped and unconsciously repeating choices which do not serve your highest good.
Whether working through LTT exercises, interacting with our families, or practicing yoga postures, when we bring our full body, mind and heart to the moment, with energy and presence, we transform even the mundane into self awareness practice.
“When we practice awareness, we also cultivate courage. To wake up and confront what is actually happening, rather than just going along with old stories and reaction patterns, is an act of bravery,” writes John Welwood in Journey of the Heart. “Thus the essence of courage is being willing to feel our heart even in situations that are difficult or painful.”
Today, observe the times you are not 100% present in the moment and gently guide yourself back. What took you away? Probably thoughts of the past or worries about the future. But these do not exist. Only this moment exists.
And it is in this moment that we can choose something new for ourself. With each breath, of each moment of each day, we choose our possibilities. Multiple potential futures exist right now, and it is through the choices that we make each moment, that we determine the path of our lives.
As we hold moment by moment focus, not pushing anything away, but embracing everything with an open heart, we experience drops of peace and rest, sometimes just a few seconds. With more practice, we experience an extended sense of inner tranquility and well being. A drop of peace turns into a flow of joy, cheerfulness, energy and power.
6. Cultivate stillness.
In our modern world, to ‘unplug’ is almost unheard of, given that we can be connected at any time in almost any place on the globe through modern technology. We have become addicted to the stimuli and the connection this affords, but what we have lost is the internal check point and connection to our inner self that only stillness provides. We must choose times to unplug, to leave external stimulation behind, and close down the windows to the outside world, turning our focus inward. With the practices we have developed so far; breathing, tuning into the body, focusing with mindfulness on each moment, we create within ourselves the ability to be still.
Making choices about the sensory stimulation we allow in on a daily basis is essential to cultivating stillness. Like forgiveness, this is daily practice, not something we do once and then forget. We are bombarded with noise and distractions all day in our modern world. How can we find the quiet within, needed to hear our own truth? It is again, simply a choice. Turn off, unplug, say no, and get quiet. Use commuting time to be with yourself, rather than listening to radio chatter. Keep the television off while you are eating breakfast. Take a walk by yourself at lunch hour. Carve out quiet moments each day when you can.
We waste a tremendous amount of energy each day in useless, repetitive thinking. As a culture, we are addicted to thinking, which includes planning, assessing, and judging, instead of directly experiencing. In yoga, through focused breath and physical movement, we train the mind, gently calling it back again and again to the chosen focal point, as though calling a small child to sit beside us. We watch thought arise and fall, and we rest in the breath.
By closing off the external stimuli and clearing the internal screen long enough, we begin to see the way we are and hear the way things are. We become witnesses to our own experiences, watching with distance. And this distance offers clarity, perspective, and calm.
Up until now, we have been building active practices. We have been cultivating body awareness and respect; single pointed attention, and acceptance of the moment. Through movement and breath, we channel our life force and bring ease to the body and mind. Now as we rest in stillness, we transform doing into being.
As we practice, focusing and being still, eventually the busy, busy mind quiets down and meditation occurs. Meditation, simply put, is awareness. The ability to just be present with the moment exactly as it is, without running forward in desire, or running backward in rumination. Just being as we are now. We become able to observe everything as having a greater purpose, embracing all with an open heart.
“As we just let experience unfold, the heart opens more and more,” writes Stephen Levine, author of many books on meditation. “And we somehow feel that everything will be all right, that things are working out just as they are supposed to. It’s painful sometimes; it’s ecstatic sometimes; but somehow it’s always perfect.”
7. Establish balance and moderation of your life force energy.
By releasing emotion, confronting reality and embracing your body’s truth, you have freed up more energy and personal power. As you step into the proactive phase of LTT Step 7, visioning and planning your most powerful future, all of your life force energy is required. Now is the time to assess, by again deeply tuning in to body wisdom, whether or not any of that precious energy fuel is still draining into the past or being spent unwisely in the present on old pattern behaviors or other people’s issues.
Once this assessment is complete and you are fully engaged in your ‘now’, learning to moderate and balance your energy is the next step.
Like you budget your money to be sure you don’t overspend in one area and come up short in another, you must budget your energy, your life fuel, not going into debt on things like over working, over eating, or watching too much television.
Notice how and where you spend your energy each day? Are there imbalances? Are you coming up short for the things or relationships that are most important?
As in nature, to be harmonious, we rely upon all things being in good equilibrium. Day and night, work and play, sun and moon, self and other, summer and winter, outer and inner, male and female, intimacy and solitude, growing and resting, mind and body. When nature’s patterns are off balance, devastation occurs in ways like flooding, drought or hurricanes. When we are off balance, similar devastation occurs in our health, work or relationships.
We must regulate the patterns and cycles within us in the same way the earth does. And it is important to make adjustments before becoming completely depleted in the same way that we refill our gas tanks before running completely out of gas and having to walk for miles to the nearest filling station.
Unfortunately, creating balance and moderation for ourselves is not supported by modern life, in which we are constantly asked and expected to do more. We manipulate our environments with light and technology so we can work at all hours of the day and night. And we pay no attention to the seasonal nature of being human, except when the occasional snowstorm shuts down our ability to get to work. Even then, we just power up the Blackberry and work from home.
Our vital energy requires that we re-establish connection with our internal rhythms and cycles and create balance through moderation and healthy levels of self care. For example, say no to the extra commitments or tasks that keep you from taking time for stillness. And set your life truth goals in first priority rather than leaving them until the last thing on the to-do list.
How well do you allow for the natural rhythms and cycles in your life?
How could you honor yourself with more balance?
In our crazy modern lives, balance is often hard to achieve. We achieve a moment of balance and then we fall out again. Then we must employ the tools we have already learned to bring ourselves back to equanimity. Recognizing that balance, as any state of being, is ever changing, constantly in flux, we can breathe, listen inwardly, focus, be in the moment, be still and find it once again.
8. Practice peace with yourself and others.
“There is no way to peace,” said Mahatma Gandhi, Indian political leader and spiritual teacher. “Peace is the way.” Gandhi demonstrated this through his peaceful protests of British rule in India. He refused to meet violence with more violence, and successfully effected change for his country and won the respect of his enemies.
In the same way that you must take positive action to manifest your life dreams, you must also take active steps to create peace in your heart and in your life. Each time you choose a small measure of peace, you create a ripple effect into your circle of family and friends, blessing their lives with more peace and love. This then extends through them out into the greater world. Never underestimate the power of one peaceful word or action.
To actively choose peace and contentment at every turn, internally and externally, no matter what you encounter, is mindfulness practice at its finest. The hurt ego is so quick to react. The tired mind is so quick to snap.
You have already begun preparing the way for peace, applying deep acceptance of things just as they are now, slowing down and being mindful, honoring your body.
In yoga, to practice an active, practical application of peace and reverence for all beings means seeking to create peace where it is not. This is not simply doing no harm, but rather proactively looking for ways to do good each day. Staying neutral is not enough. The old adage, “If you are not a part of the solution, then you are part of the problem” applies.
No peace lies in the future which isn’t available now, hidden in the present moment. And the attitude and application of peace and reverence must always start with ourselves before we can extend it to others.
Some examples of how to create more peace for yourself are:
- Embrace the simple things.
- Treat your body with reverence, take care of yourself.
- Hold yourself compassionately in your thoughts and emotions.
- Allow yourself to rest when you need to.
- Watch for ways you subtly sabotage positive life change.
- Silence the self critical voice within when you have tried your hardest.
- Replace negative thinking with positive affirmations.
- Forgive yourself for something.
- Do less, enjoy more.
- Find humor, even in stressful situations.
- Reflect on your current blessings and abundance.
- Like manifesting your dreams, small steps yield big results over time. Look for ways this week to actively choose peace in your thoughts and actions towards yourself and others.
Some examples of how to create peace for others are:
- Use a soothing tone of voice.
- Express gratitude to someone.
- Yield the right of way to an aggressive driver.
- React kindly even if someone is rude to you.
- Take time to make eye contact and smile at a stranger or store clerk.
- Disengage from a current conflict.
- Make amends to someone you have treated unkindly.
- Spend an hour with a child, seeing the world from his point of view.
- Be patient with someone moving slower than you.
- Give something you love to someone who needs it more than you do.
- Practice being content, even if something is not exactly to your liking.
- Send someone who has hurt you a thought of forgiveness.
- Lend a listening ear to someone.
- Yoga teaches that inside these human bodies and human stories, we are really Divine Beings.
© 2008 Jennie Lee reprints by permission