Self-Care Discoveries Blog (1)
Written by Brian Shircliff, VITALITY’s Program Director:
I’ve been amazed by the grass this week.
How full it has come up. Green, lush, alive.
Same for the weeds along the highway. Life.
There is a life in Spring that I long for in my own life, in my own bones and flesh.
And re-discovering it, I’ve found, doesn’t take much.
When we first founded VITALITY in 2010 and I decided to leave a career teaching and coaching two very successful high school sports teams, people thought I had lost my mind. Some people still think that.
Truthfully, high school students in the Meditation elective I was teaching were finding such power in their lives by doing the simplest things — resting and breathing and reflecting and moving gently and with ease. Surely, if high school boys could find such power in it, couldn’t everybody — especially people who might not ordinarily know such opportunities exist? Especially in communities torn by violence, poverty, despair?
So a few of us set out to make holistic self-care education affordable and accessible . . . opportunities that involve moving gently, breathing, resting, planting and harvesting fresh food, reflecting, talking with friends about life.
No real mystery here, for sure. Not rocket science. Not even woo-woo.
And yet many friends urged me not to do it.
A few friends even told me that I would lose my soul — they privately urged me not to “throw your life away on those evil Eastern practices.”
The funny thing is, though I had studied esoteric things of the East — even in college at Xavier University — I often found the very same holistic-minded things happening in the very Judeo-Christian tradition that I was paid to teach by the local and world authorities of the Catholic Church.
Jesus goes to the desert, to the lonely mountaintops of his Middle Eastern world. Repeatedly. Often alone. What on earth was he doing there? Call it whatever you want — meditation or reflection or prayer or relaxing or communing with nature both inside himself and within this dry, desert uncomfortable world — it was what we were doing in meditation class at St. Xavier High School and what we do at VITALITY.
So many of Jesus’ stories involve planting and harvesting — the key to survival in his world and ours, both to eat and to feed the soul.
Jesus reminds us that we are the light of the world. We. As in us. As in each one of us. No matter how “bad” we think we are. No matter how many times we try to dodge our light-ness and try to throw the spotlight on him and other greats.
Jesus sends his followers out to heal people, to trust that God would flow through them through something as simple as touch, as friendship, as compassion, as eating with one another. “Take nothing with you for the journey!” Jesus would say — that the only thing you need for healing is yourself, your presence, God alive within you and within the other person and between you both.
Elijah and Elisha — prophets from the Bible — do the same everyday, incredible things nearly nine hundred years before Jesus. And they apparently set up guilds of prophets to do the same and cultivate an appreciation of what is truly possible in life. Imagine that — a guild of people studying together all that is possible by breathing and moving and resting!
The ancient prophets about a hundred years before them were said — yep, in the Bible — to go on top of mountaintops, remove their clothes, and rest and breathe and move with the ecstasy of feeling God so close as their skin — even within themselves. No separation between God and them. The blood-thirsty King Saul was so moved by it that when he chased David to the prophets with the intention of killing David in his jealous rage that he fell in among the prophets and forgot about killing David — at least for a time. He found some peace, even in his blood-thirsty rage, even in his pained jealousy. King Saul, like David, like these mountain-top prophets, removed clothes and felt the air on their skin and knew God as only God could be known by human beings, in the flesh. It wasn’t some strange sexual thing they were doing. It seems to be simply about knowing God being so close, without separation. Nakedness is so often feared in our modern culture that we haven’t begun such things at VITALITY, though we wonder about just what these prophets knew.
There are countless examples of the power of breathing and moving and resting and healing in the Judeo-Christian tradition. And yet our culture all too often shies away from it. Sometimes even fears it. Again and again and again.
I’ve dedicated my life to it, and yet it is so easy for me to miss a day of being good to myself in this way — by taking even ten minutes to breathe and move gently and rest on the ground or in a chair or even to take a walk and notice the abundant beauty of life, of the seasons changing in this infinite world.
And that’s why we’ve begun our coming-together that is VITALITY. We seek to remind one another of the importance of taking some time for ourselves. Every day. To feel the life within us. To know all that is possible when we move gently, when we breathe with ease, when we rest, when we grow and eat the abundance of the earth together.
At VITALITY, we don’t try to make it all mysterious and speak in different languages — be they the ancient languages of the Bible (Hebrew and Greek) or the ancient language of yoga (Sanskrit). We strive to speak in English, in a way that is simple, in a way that communicates.
We have found ourselves — ordinary everyday people — and our communities coming alive through such simple, gentle practices. Bodies that were once full of pain mow move with ease. Minds that were jumbled with all kinds of thoughts now rest easier. People who used to not like one another now find love and light in one another. Blighted areas of neighborhoods where murder and violence was almost everyday have become parks for night-meditation and community gardens for growing food -- where neighbors gather to re-knit together the social fabric of their community.
We hope this new blog is a way for us all to share stories about what we have discovered together through self-care . . . through breathing and moving and resting. Call the practices whatever you want: yoga or Healing Touch or meditation or journaling or Movement Intelligence or Bones for Life or Feldenkrais Method or tai chi or whatever.
In studying all of these “modalities” for 20+ years, I can say with confidence that they are all the same. They all involve breathing and moving and resting and reflecting and noticing. Sure, each modality or brand or practice might have some different ideas that are helpful that another modality might forget or leave out.
But each “modality” gets at that deeper sense that is not that deep at all and yet is the most profound mystery we will ever encounter. That we are alive. Right here. Right now. On this earth. That life — though very difficult at times — is full of beauty. That love is possible to be felt — even with and among strangers. That it is all somehow deeper than we ever can contain and know.
May we all be so bold as to know such life as the ancient prophet-guilds and Elijah and Elisha and Jesus all knew. What a world we might know together through breathing and moving gently and resting, especially in this incredible season of Spring that reminds us that what was once dormant — grass! highway weeds! — can spring to life again in such fulness and such beauty, as can we. As can we.
A Reflection by Liz Wu
Pulling weeds in the garden.
It begins slowly, with some effort. Finding a way to crouch down, to reach the plants.
Experimenting with the best angle for pulling, and how much force is needed. Knowing when a tool is required.
Sometimes the plants yield, but often they resist. I feel slightly guilty for disturbing them, but know the other plants need room to grow.
Gradually, a rhythm develops and the process becomes faster. A large pile of debris is building in the wheelbarrow. The space in the garden is noticeably clearer, and it feels as though the plants can breathe easier.
The cycle of squatting, pulling, releasing continues — with an easy momentum that could go on for hours.
The simplicity offers a huge relief — just pull.
Thoughts become unnecessary — flowing into a physical conversation with the earth on where to focus, how to move, when to pull, when to move on.
As this continues, it feels as though I am weeding more than the plants. I begin to review aspects of the mind that can be released . . . some of it clutter, some of it competing for attention with other thoughts I would prefer to develop.
In the complex flow of daily life, pausing to pull some weeds gave me a welcome respite. Next time I find myself feeling overwhelmed, I will remember that there are always weeds to pull.
“No More Oppression” by Rhyanne McDade
Learning to just be, how amazing it feels — it is truly an awesome experience. So simple, so easy. Learning to go with the flow. I am inspired rather than limited by my own expectations.
This is what yoga has helped me to do.
“Gratitude for Jade” by Dayna Schambach
24 inches wide, 68 inches long, ____ [unit of measure unknown] deep
A beautiful teal covers your rubber feel and you call yourself "Jade"
Rolled up you represent the feelings for which you hope to escape: tight and coiled
Rolled out you represent the space the body needs to meet the mind: free and open
A rectangular start to a journey that becomes round
Body hesitates to step before you, upon your sacred ground
"Be brave and go on, says the mind," as it hypocritically waits in the corner to ensure safety.
*Body shushes the mind and carefully places feet onto Jade*
I've made it! Okay, now lets breathe. Lets become mindful of something our body does involuntarily.
Jade confirms the safety with her soft touch and easy grasp.
Lets see if we can change the pattern. Focus. That's it. Here comes Mind now.
"I was…watching for monsters…" says Mind making excuses for its late arrival. Body rolls its eyes.
"Take my hand and let's mindfully walk through space and time" offers Jade
Okay now we're on the same page…
"We'll unwind the fears that have kept us bound up in our bodies feeling sore and achy and stagnate.
There's no trophy for your atrophy…so onward we go!"
*20 minutes go by….*
"Wow, this FEELS GREAT and RIGHT and MAJESTIC, huh Mind?" asks Body
*Mind does a happy dance* *Body giggles and ardently clicks heels together*
Mind and Body have connected to feel peace and unity; and it's all because of Jade.
A Reflection by Isabelle Provosty
I ran into Brian in Norwood / Pleasant Ridge. He mentioned my doing the yoga teacher training this summer and I was overjoyed! I had been thinking about doing this program for years and it finally manifested! I began on May 20. I was going through some inner turmoil and I felt bad that the other students were exposed to this. That is a pretty bad opinion to have of yourself! Even though I felt this, I felt a sense of belonging on this first day. I was thankful!
It was the second day of the VITALITY teacher training program. I chose my yoga mat (borrowed from VITALITY) because my yoga mat which my mother gave me was at my fiance's apartment. When I unrolled the borrowed yoga mat, it had three words written on it. Love, Peace, & Joy. These three words resonated with me because of the turmoil I had been going through.
We were assigned to create a meditation / visualization about our personal experience. I created a picture with the sun, the sky, and a void of the earth. I used the three words on my yoga mat to show my faith that life is overall a good path!
What is YOGA? by Dayna Schaumbach
Yoga is life - it is kinetic energy waiting to be transformed. It is a wind instrument that only makes music with breath. It is bringing the outliers of our being in line with each other.
A Reflection by Cassandra Freed
I have to admit I got this saying from someone at VITALITY just in conversation. Yoga frees the mind and allows us to just FEEL. I thought, such a simple statement, but so profound. When you think about it you allow yourself time to get in touch with yourself. So many of us are disconnected even from our own selves. Yoga helps me to stop and enjoy a moment in time.
What is YOGA? by Brian Shircliff
Yoga is an invitation to discover Oneness discovering itself again . . . it can happen by taking a leisurely walk, by lying on the ground and looking at the clouds and stars and sun and moon change, by meditating or making traditional yoga shapes and sensing ourselves and our environment in and out of those shapes, in conversation, over a meal, in our dreams, in our 'best' moments and our 'worst' moments, anywhere and any time.
From our current Yoga/Healing Touch Interns -- VITALITY's 9th class! -- who are amazing yoga/wellness teachers in their own right reflect on what they have learned from visitors to our VITALITY circle who have shared their wisdom at VITALITY recently:
"In Trauma Sensitive Yoga with Becky Morrissey, I learned how important it is to meet people where they are."
"I really loved what Mary Sinclair shared about how to get out of a chair, and would love if there could be a little video clip of it so that I could practice it and then share it with my senior class participants." -- Liz
"I learned from Mary Duennes and her Healing Touch level 1 class about the recognition of energy . . . the energy of myself and others, the dynamic of that energy, and the healing power of that energy." -- Alice
"I learned from Mary Schoen's Breath Blow-Out that breath is empowering, makes you energetic and euphoric -- all at the same time." -- Cassandra
"Mary Sinclair's class on posture changed my life! Looking deeper on how our spine and pelvis are shaped and seeing the images of people who have good posture vs. don't truly helped me to change the way I think about sitting up, walking, standing, etc. I've noticed a positive change in how I walk now and how I feel -- less upper back pain." -- Dayna
"I learned a lot from Davi Brown's Kundalini Yoga class, about a more traditional yoga practice with chanting and pausing for meditation and some easy-to-do movements that seemed to increase my vitality and sense of life within myself."
"I learned about the interconnectedness of our body from Becky Morrissey's Trauma Sensitive Yoga class."
"From Mary Schoen's Breath Blow-Out I learned how important it is to release the restricted areas of your breath in order to be free."
"From Mary Sinclair's Posture/Balance Workshop, I learned how proper alignment not only removes pain but keeps the system healthy and vibrant and increases personal power."
"Davi Brown's Kundalini Yoga class moved a lot of energy!"
"Mary Sinclair's Posture/Balance Workshop helped me better understand the structure of my pelvis. She also gave me an experience, the tactile memory of being aligned even before the slideshow of those images about alignment. The wrapped towel behind my shoulders really helped me, and now I always have a towel behind me while I'm driving - so useful!" -- CJ
"I discovered the importance of breathing from Becky Morrissey's Trauma Sensitive Yoga class. When you breathe in, your lungs are filling with air and your diaphragm is expanding."
By VITALITY co-founder Mike Eck . . .
What do you see ....
Some of us see the forest
Some of us see the trees
Some of us see the flowers
Some of us see the bees
Some of us see the dirt
Some of us see the seeds
When we all feel the Water
When we all feel the Breath
When we all see the root
When we all see the weeds
When we all see the Vine
When we all see the Fruit
We all sea the Divine
By VITALITY yoga teacher Liz Wu . . .
Yoga is the practice of deepening one's awareness of the connection of body, mind, spirit & all creation, and flourishing within that connection.
By VITALITY yoga teacher Amelia Herold . . .
"Pinch Me - It's Yoga"
A yearning for the Divine, a gift of amore,
An invitation to a sacred oneness,
A wellspring for wisdom and wonder,
A pause, a moment that morphs into a lifetime...
Of bliss and reverence,
Out of nothing -the All,
Is the way.
Pinch me - It's Yoga!
By VITALITY yoga teacher Jamie Thaxton . . .
In yoga today, we discussed “noise.” My definition - Noise: the static that resides in your body, induced by stress, exacerbating tension, creating a constant strain, and draining energy. I rarely notice the noise, unless I am quiet; my body relaxed, my brain stil l- but it takes it’s toll, and its effects are very apparent. However, once I am aware, the noise is so obvious it become visible. To me, the noise can be seen in a dance of bright colors behind my eyelids. Much like a technicolor TV static, it bumps around into the colors next to it, creating friction and building tension. The colors are mostly shades of reds, both bright and dark - but yellows, blues, and deep greens are there too. Yoga doesn’t quiet the noise. It doesn’t go away. Instead, yoga brings order.
In the Gentle Series, after constructive rest we begin by working our right leg. We pull it into our chest, breathe, release. Stretch the edges of our feet, and move our leg in circles, helping the hip release. We cycle back and pull our leg into our chest once more, then release it to the ground. It is in this moment my awareness of noise is most prevalent. My right leg feels longer, stronger, in alignment. But more than that, the dance of noise behind my eyelids changes. My left eye can still see the colors jostling, an exhausting, chaotic movement. My right eye, however, sees only order. The noise is no longer moving - the colors remain but their forms have been stretched, elongated into thin stripe of color. Similar to a solid metal rod, the colors are next to each other in a row, their tops stretching to the crown of my head, and the bottom of the colors reach my toes. The colors do not move - rather they keep this formation. So while the noise is not silenced, it is managed and it now creates a visualization of strength. Once we complete stretching our left side, the new ordered pattern in my mind’s eye is complete. And its calming and strengthening effects last throughout the rest of my practice.
I enjoy this visualization. It helps me deeply feel yoga’s positive outcomes. It calms my mind so that I can focus on my intention and brings me into a state of deep relaxation. The noise also provides a lesson that I needed to learn - Life can be stressful and the events that cause stress may not go away, but finding a way to create calm, to organize the noise, can provide stability and even vitality to the body.
From VITALITY yoga teacher Liz Wu . . .
These days I find myself watching the watcher.
Like a kaleidoscope, awareness
Reflects experiences in all dimensions
Colorful fractals spilled out in all directions
Side by side, flipped around, and upside down.
Sensations bubbling like so much eye candy
With each breath, less need to react, and more desire to relax.
Discomfort becomes simply one more color against the glass.
Who, one may ask, is hot?
Who is it that looks up and finds a seahorse in the shape of a cloud?
Who is it that quietly listens, calmly observes, slowly records every action and thought,
who stares up from the bottom of the well?
With each twist of these questions the kaleidoscope spins.
Sensations jumble together and then separate into geometric patterns of meaning.
Looking through the small spy hole, the universe distills into colorful fragments that
dance on a rotating, reflective canvass.
With each breath the canvass shifts, and I begin to recognize small patterns.
The placement of the shoulders.
The set of the jaw.
The habits that seek comfort, familiarity, and a path of least resistance.
In that moment of recognition, before the kaleidoscope turns with the following breath, there is a moment, a window, a space to choose something different.
To change the objects in the kaleidoscope and the images they cast.
With each breath comes opportunity.
And so, I have begun to watch the watcher.