Finding Stillness in our Stories

Practicing the Foundation Breath

Don’t talk unless you can improve the silence.  Jorge Luis Borges

I have practiced hot yoga on the same mat in the same studio for nearly ten years. It’s a little frayed around its edges and is starting to lose some of its no-slip grip. I should have replaced it six months ago but I have to admit I am attached to this mat. We have been through a lot together. Attachments like these seem innocent enough, but there’s something else going on here and I feel I am finally getting to the bottom of it. Every time I roll out this mat and look down on its signs of wear, I tell myself a little story. It’s a story that celebrates my hard work and dedication to my practice through the years. It feels good to keep repeating this story, which is why the mat keeps living to see another day.  The problem is this story has very little to do with my yoga and a lot to do with keeping my ego happy. Without diving too far into the weeds, approval has always been important for me, even when I generate it on my own. This deeper stuff is great to shine some light upon, but will have to wait until a future post for closer examination. What is important here is my attachment and its happy little story 1) take my focus off what I am actually doing on the mat and 2) obscure the fact that I’d be safer on a new one.

When we loosen our hold on something or someone, we stop feeding the stories they inspire and bring greater awareness to whatever we’re doing in the present.

This is how our attachments work…under the radar, but still in plain sight. The new car, the coveted job title, the approval of those close to us (…or not so close). Our attachments play starring roles in all our favorite stories. Of course, the attachments themselves are not the problem…it’s how we cling to them and spin our stories around them that can get us into trouble. After all, I should have replaced my mat six months ago…I have just been getting in my own way. In many Yoga and Buddhist traditions, attachment is viewed as a major source of suffering in our lives. Non-attachment or non-possessiveness (aparigraha) is considered so important, it is held up as one of the five yamas, or ethical principles of yoga that help guide us through our daily interactions and activities. The logic here is straightforward: when we loosen our hold on something or someone, we stop feeding the stories they inspire and bring greater awareness to whatever we’re doing in the present.

And this is where our breath comes in. We hold on to our breath just like anything else we are afraid of losing. When we let go of our breath, we reset our nervous system and loosen the hold of even our strongest attachments and most compelling stories. The Foundation Breathing exercise presented below focuses on the exhalation and that sublime stillness before we take our next breath. Approach it with an open mind. With some practice you will likely find it, as I have, to be a powerful addition to your self-care toolkit.

Foundation Breath Basics

What

  • Our attachments (people-possessions-beliefs-expectations) can be a major source of pain and suffering
  • The Foundation Breath can pull us from repeating story loops and loosen the hold of our attachments
  • Research suggests that diaphragmatic (belly) breathing moderates clinging and controlling behavior by increasing our attention, improving our mood and reducing our stress levels (see references below).

How

  • Breathe in through the nose – Release the breath through the mouth – Pause – Repeat
  • Start with a 2-3 sec. inhalation-exhalation and 1 sec. pause and move up from there.
  • Breathing in through the nose conditions the air for absorption in the lungs.
  • Breathing out through the mouth (vocalization optional) focuses attention on the exhalation.

When

  • Slow down persistent worry over pending medical test results or financial strains.
  • Lessen chronic stress due to workload, a challenging boss or an upcoming performance review.  
  • Let go of the expectations related to your balance in tree pose or your strength in triangle. As one of my teachers puts it: “One percent of the pose done correctly provides 100% benefit.”

Learn More

  • Hafenbrack, A. 2017. Mindfulness Meditation as an On-The-Spot Workplace Intervention. Journal of Business Research. 75, 118-129.
  • Landau, M. (2018). This Breathing Exercise Can Calm You Down in a Few Minutes, Vice Media, Retrieved Feb25, 2020.
  • Ma, X., Yue, Z., Gong, Z, Zhang, H., Duan, N., Shi, Y. Wei, G. & Li, Y. (2017). The Effect of Diaphragmatic Breathing on Attention, Negative Affect and Stress in Healthy Adults. Frontiers in Psychology, 8(72): 1-12.
  • Pattee, E.(2020). The Difference Between Worry, Stress and Anxiety, The New York Times, Retrieved Feb 29, 2020. 
  • Schmalzl, L., Powers, C., and Henje Blom, E. (2015). Neurophysiological and neurocognitive mechanisms underlying the effects of yoga-based practices: towards a comprehensive theoretical framework. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 9:235.
  • Sullivan, M., Erb, M., Schmalzl, L., Moonz, S., Taylor, J. & Porges, S., 2018. Yoga Therapy and Polyvagal Theory: The Convergence of Traditional Wisdom and Contemporary Neuroscience for Self-Regulation and Resilience. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 12(67), 1-15.

The Self-Care Mindset

Seated Meditation and Mindful Movement for All Levels

Wednesday October 2nd 6:00-7:00pm / Swarthmore Town Center / Fresh Air Fitness in Central Park ampitheater – Donation based


We invite you to “put on your own oxygen mask first!”

With the breath as the key to our self-care toolkit, we’ll be exploring simple tools to manage stress, become more present, and foster self-acceptance.

These include seated breath awareness and breath control exercises, breath-connected movement exercises, and a guided mindfulness meditation to finish it off.

Practicing these tools helps develop a mindset that encourages self-care. No experience in meditation or yoga needed. Bring a cushion to sit on, a blanket for your lap if we’re outside, and an open mind. All ages and levels of experience welcome.

Donation-based – pay what you can.

In case of inclement weather: inside Borough Hall

Special May Workshops!

We’re bringing you some special offerings in May and hope to see you come out for something a little different! All workshops meet on Saturdays at Wallingford Presbyterian Church, Fellowship Hall. Click on photos for more.

Mindfulness Meditation Workshop

Saturday May 4th: Drop into the freshness of the present moment! Learn a variety of meditation tools to relieve stress and find calm in your everyday routine. 9:30-10:30am / Wallingford Presbyterian Church

“Meditation practice isn’t about trying to throw ourselves away and become something better. It’s about befriending who we are already.”

Pema Chödrön

At the heart of mindfulness is the call to become more present in each moment. In our mindfulness workshop, we’ll utilize techniques learned through Penn Medicine’s Penn Program for Mindfulness, as well as teachings from Buddhist nun, Pema Chödrön. We’ll become more aware of breath, body, and patterns of thought through a variety of meditation exercises. Our goal is to fully experience each moment as it happens, and find peace and relaxation right in the middle of the most chaotic moment – so that we may better navigate the joys and challenges of being human on a daily basis.

“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”

Jon Kabat-Zinn

Bring your own coffee or tea and cushion or blanket to sit on if needed. Chairs will also be provided. All ages welcome, and no experience is needed! Leave feeling more awake and alive, more able to manage stress and whatever arises.

About the Instructor: Ann MacMullan Jeans is a certified yoga instructor (EYT-200) and teaches in the Philadelphia area with her company Team Sun Wellness. Ann believes in the healing power of yoga and meditation for everyone, no matter what age, level of fitness, or life circumstance. Ann has completed the foundational 8-week program at Penn Medicine’s Penn Program for Mindfulness, and regularly practices yoga and meditation.

Mindfulness Meditation Workshop

Saturday May 4th 9:30-10:30am Wallingford Presbyterian Church / Fellowship hall

$15.00

Thoughts on Finding Balance

In this morning’s meditation, I weighed the concept of balance. At first it was a lot of thoughts, then it was more about the feeling of it, and then it was both. In those thirty minutes or so, I must have had a hundred thoughts come and go before I really started to pay close attention to one thing: my breath. Maybe after about ten minutes, some equilibrium was achieved between my in and out breaths. Just breathing in, breathing out, for equal lengths of time. Feeling the inside of the body, feeling the outside of the body. Noticing how after a while, there did not seem to be much difference between the two, and a certain state of wholeness was felt. I was in my mind and my body at the same time, without noticing one or the other too much.

This state of balance between mind and body, of just being, can transform everyday well-being.

As human beings with overly active minds, we love to categorize and assign value to things. We make instant internal pronouncements about everything! Personally, I notice myself closing up or getting ready for a fight when something is not to my liking, or someone is doing something that offends me. I always want a smooth ride, for my life to be happy all the time – without acknowledging pain, by resisting suffering – even though sorrow is a regular part of being alive. Just like everyone else, I place a greater value on joyful happy experiences. When I feel pain, I don’t want it! And that’s all perfectly natural.

“Life is glorious, but life is also wretched. It is both… One inspires us, the other softens us. They go together.”

-Pema Chodron

How we react during uncomfortable moments is key: maybe we get angry and lash out at anyone who enters into our crosshairs, try to numb our pain or loneliness with excessive exercise or alcohol, or just run away and leave our jobs or marriages. Maybe we keep telling ourselves the same story about how unfair it is that we have to experience this type of suffering, and that the world really owes us something for having to go through this. And we continue to marinate in more suffering, except now we have created it for ourselves. By reacting, resisting, and complaining, we deny ourselves the full experience of being human and quite possibly the transformation that our pain might bring.

Being “mindful” or “in the present moment” helps us find balance throughout our day, experience more joy in little things, and facilitate a wiser navigation and acceptance of our suffering as part of our human existence.

I’m trying a new approach for myself. When I feel myself wanting to pull away or get angry, or something just really hurts, I try to give it some space by breathing. Maybe little by little, I can begin to open to the idea of accepting it so that I can move through whatever it is more gracefully. And in turn, when things go right, and I feel on top of the world, I’m trying not to get swept away by my own ego. We’ll see how it goes. For me, it all comes back to the breath. By practicing balance between the in and out breaths, practicing this non-dualistic non-judgmental approach, I start to experience a larger sense of balance. I know there’s suffering, I know there’s joy, and I also know that in a way they are the same. They are things we experience as part of being alive. So I’m brought back to balance and being alive and just being.

By just sitting and breathing, we become more aware of our own everyday well-being, which is shifting and changing with each breath.

Would you like to practice this with me? Try the Balancing Breath Exercise as a step towards transforming your own everyday well-being!

Mindfulness

“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”

Jon Kabat-Zinn

Mindfulness is a type of meditation that, if practiced regularly, spills over into every corner of one’s life. While a daily seated meditation practice is encouraged, mindfulness can be incorporated into every aspect of our daily lives so that we can better navigate the joys and challenges of being human. Learning how to take a breath before we react in a difficult situation, engaging more fully with others, or accessing our innate wisdom are a few of the ways that mindfulness can transform your daily existence. At the heart of mindfulness is the call to become more present in each moment.

LISTEN TO A FIVE MINUTE MINDFULNESS MEDITATION

In our mindfulness sessions, we utilize techniques learned through Penn Medicine’s Penn Program for Mindulness, as well as teachings from Buddhist nun, Pema Chödrön. Over the course of our sessions, we’ll become more aware of breath, body, and patterns of thought through a variety of meditation exercises. Our goal is to fully experience each moment as it happens, and find peace and relaxation right in the middle of the most chaotic moment.

“Meditation practice isn’t about trying to throw ourselves away and become something better. It’s about befriending who we are already.”

Pema Chödrön

The practice of mindfulness can reduce stress and improve overall quality of life. Contact us to set up a session for your community!

Check out our Video Library!

Outdoor Mindfulness Meditation

  • Three Sundays  at 8:00am / August 19th, 26th, and September 9th
  • Donation-based

Join us for a 30-minute Mindfulness Meditation in Swarthmore town center’s peaceful ampitheater. Bring your own coffee or tea and cushion or blanket to sit on if needed. Our meditations will mostly center around the breath, with the goal of staying present. There may be a thematic reading, or we may enjoy guided meditations like body scans. All ages welcome, and no experience is needed! Leave feeling more awake and alive, more able to manage stress and whatever arises.

“Every moment is incredibly unique and fresh, and when we drop into the moment, as meditation allows us to do, we learn how to truly taste this tender and mysterious life that we share together.”Pema Chödrön

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About the Instructor: Ann MacMullan Jeans is a certified yoga instructor (RYT-200) and teaches in the Philadelphia area with her company Team Sun Wellness. Ann believes in the healing power of yoga and meditation for everyone, no matter what age, level of fitness, or life circumstance. Ann has completed the foundational 8-week program at Penn Medicine’s Penn Program for Mindfulness, and regularly practices yoga and meditation. For more information, email Ann at info@teamsunwellness.com.

Ampitheatre Location: 121 Park Avenue – Swarthmore, PA 19081 / Swarthmore Town Center’s ampitheatre is right next to the library or Borough Hall, with ample metered parking and free street parking nearby.

 

Explore Fort Mifflin with us!

APRIL EVENT CANCELED DUE TO HEAVY RAINS

Just under ten miles outside Philadelphia’s center city lies a hidden gem:  Fort Mifflin, one of the most important battlefields of the American Revolutionary War.  In 1777, American soldiers held this vital supply point located on the Delaware River against overwhelming odds for forty-five long days. It is also a vital green space and a delightful site to wander.

On the Spring Equinox (Tuesday APRIL 17th 2018, from 6-8pm,) we will welcome spring by fusing past and present during a mindful exploration of this impressive fifty-acre National Historic Landmark. The Fort is closed to the public during our event, so we will have full, private access to this beautiful and historic location.

 

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OUR EVENT WILL INCLUDE:

MINDFUL MOVEMENT SESSION: First, we’ll explore the boundaries between our own bodies and the space around us during a mindful movement session. What is mindful movement, you ask? It’s movement that is connected with the breath, during postures that are influenced by yoga – but no yoga experience is needed! Breath-connected movement is essential for health and well-being, fusing mind and body, and can help us “listen to our bodies” with more clarity. This is beneficial for bringing awareness to our everyday routines so that we and attain better balance and posture, and manage stress more mindfully. However, all that said, we do not take ourselves too seriously and like to play and have fun!

CANDLELIGHT TOUR: Next, we’ll take a tour of one of America’s oldest established forts with one of Fort Mifflin’s knowledgable guides. From the Artillery Shed to the Water Battery and everything in between, we’ll celebrate the beginning of spring in this vital green space to better understand a battle that was not won, but fought by men who never surrendered. There is rumored to be quite a bit of paranormal activity at this site,  as well – which we experienced the first time we visited. We’ll see who shows up!

FIRE PIT MEDITATION: We’ll end with a meditation session around the fire pit: practicing different breathing techniques to calm the mind and focus inward, while integrating the movement and tour portions of our event. A daily practice of focused deep breathing is one of the best tools for improving health and well-being and is available to us at all times. We may even close our event with a short chant if participants are open to it.

In the event of bad (cold or wet) weather we will hold our movement and meditation sessions in the bunk room with a fireplace going. Participants need no experience in yoga or meditation.

Things to consider:

  • Bring a large towel to sit on and wear comfortable clothes. 
  • Arrive 5-10 minutes early to settle in.
  • Bring something to drink or eat if you like!
  • Sunset is at 7:13pm.
  • Address: 6400 Hog Island Road, Philadelphia, PA 19153 – free parking included.
  • It’s Brian’s birthday, so we may get to fire the cannon!

Whether you’re a history buff, a yogi who likes the outdoors, or someone just looking for other ways to explore your surroundings, we’d love to see you! Come hang out with us – breathe, move, meditate, and experience one of Philly’s hidden gems. To register, you can pay here:

 

FORT MIFFLIN MINDFUL EXPLORATION

$25.00

Or feel free to send us an email and bring cash or check to the site on the day of the event. Email: info@teamsunwellness.com

About the Instructors: We are Ann MacMullan Jeans and Brian Jeans, certified yoga instructors (RYT 200) who have also trained in mindfulness practice (Penn Medicine). We teach people of all shapes, sizes, ages and ability levels, both in group and private settings. We are dedicated to helping people establish greater awareness through breath and movement in their homes, workplaces, and communities. Learn more About Us.