Module 3.2–The Power of Stories

The following videos provide a strong foundation for the end of semester essay. Your story will take center stage this last assignment.

Before starting your essay, read the “Preface” from An Orbit Around the Sun before watching the videos. This essay is important to better understand why stories matter, why your story matters.

Next, watch the four short videos in this page. Take notes on each in your writer’s notebook.

Supine Poses


The following poses can be done by themselves and in combination. The main thing to keep in mind is to pay attention to your body. Avoiding pain is key. If anything does not feel right, skip or modify.


The breath is most important. If we were in a face to face setting, I could work with a more skillful set of poses keeping your needs in mind. For now, I want to offer these with the sense that your body is your best teacher. Please let me know what works and does not work when you write to me.

You can do these on a flat surface at the start or end of the day. A bed can work as long as it’s a pretty stiff mattress. As you start, don’t try to take any of the poses to their fullest expression. Explore and get to know what feels good. A little bit of effort goes a long way.

Corpse

We usually do corpse pose at the end of a yoga session. This pose can also be used at the start of a class. It looks like a simple pose, but, in fact, it’s most challenging.

When in corpse you are not asleep nor trying to fix yourself or the world. You are in an in between state of awareness and relaxation.

(My right hand in is not flat on the ground because of the permanent curve on my elbow due to my bicycle accident. I usually place my right hand facing down.)


Feet are wider than the hips and pointing out, allowing hips to open. Shoulders are flat on the ground, arms are slightly out depending on your shoulders, and in this case, my elbow. Palms face up.

When starting with corpse pose, you can practice first paying attention to the pause in your exhale. Use this breath to slowly scan your body from the soles of your feet to the crown of your head. As you scan, notice sensations without imposing a judgment of good or bad. Go slow. In
the yoga tradition there are seven basic energy centers that can be used as focal points to sense as you scan your body.

Chakras

Root Chakra (Muladhara)—at the base of the spine, often related to our sense of safety and survival.

Sacral Chakra (Swadhisthana)—about two inches below the navel, related to a sense of wellbeing, pleasure, and sexuality.

Solar Plexus Chakra (Manipura)—upper abdomen in the stomach area, related to self-control, self-acceptance, and confidence.

Heart Chakra (Anahata)—center of the chest, just above the heart, related to love and connection with others. This chakra connects the primal (dorsal vagal) with the upper (ventral vagal) in our selves. Placing your hand on your heart chakra is a powerful gesture that can often settle unsteady thoughts.

Throat Chakra (Vishuddha)—located on your throat, related to communication and self-expression, speaking one’s truth.

Third-Eye Chakra (Ajna)—located in the space between the eyes, related to our ability to see beyond what’s obvious, imagination, and wisdom.

Crown Chakra (Sahasrara)—located at the very top of the head, represents our connection with all of life.

Reclined Pigeon

Reclined pigeon or thread the needle pose is one of my favorites. Once on your back, make sure that your lower back is making contact with the ground. Bring your right foot to your left knee, place your hands behind your left hamstring or knee, interlock your fingers, and on your next exhale, draw your left knee toward you. Do so to where it feels good and to where you don’t round your back.


Use each exhale as a means to explore how far you can draw your knee in without any pain. Hold for a couple of breaths or a couple of minutes. This pose works on opening your hips, stretches out your hip flexors and lower back. Don’t lift your head or lift your lower back from the ground. When ready, place your left foot down and do the other side.

Bridge Pose

From a flat back, find your breath, bring your heels as close to your glutei as possible. On an exhale lift your hips, and push down on your heels. Bring your shoulder blades together a bit more, draw your chin to your chest. Stay here for five inhales and exhales. Do this three times.

Balance this backbend by rounding your back as you hug your knees to your chest. You can move left and right gently adding a bit of a massage for your lower back as you do.

These next set of poses stretch the glutei, work the hips, and provide a gentle twist for the spine.

Once on your back and with an even breath (on the exhale) draw your right knee in. Hug the knee gently and explore the sensations in the body. Take your time. On an exhale, with your right hand, draw your knee to the right side. Hold the knee toward the side for as long as it feels good.

Notice your hips and your root chakra. This is an area that affects the dorsal vagal response. Working with this area allows us to unwind our tendency to freeze when we are not in danger. (Keep your lower back making contact with the ground.)

On an exhale, bring your knee back to center. Switch hands. Extend your right arm out. Make sure your shoulders are flat on the ground, and with your left hand draw your right knee toward the left side. Go as fast as your slow breath. Don’t twist to the full extent that you can. Sense your spine.

Hold the twist as long as it feels good. A couple of breaths usually does it for me. Come back to center and do the same thing with the left leg and knee.

Even Breath


I was on a bike trail with my two sons while visiting in Gainesville. It was a beautiful morning, not a cloud in the sky. I insisted that after breakfast we would go on a trail. I was going back to Miami in a couple of hours and wanted to enjoy one last ride for the weekend before heading back.


The trail was easy, paved, and not far from the house. I figured it was an easy bike ride. When we turned left on the trail, we felt the shade of the trees and the cooler air. I soaked in the goodness and was counting my blessings of being able to enjoy a moment such as this with my grown sons.


About two minutes on the trail, I can hear my son, “Dad!” I heard his voice in slow motion. As I did, I can see myself losing control of my bicycle and flipping over the handlebars. What took a second or two felt like a long time. I knew while flying that the landing was not going to be good.


My right elbow took the brunt of fall. All I could feel was electrifying pain from the arm and blood gushing out of the elbow. The white of the ulnar bone stuck out of my skin. I had no sense of where my arm was in relationship to my body.


Without any thought, I turned on my back and did what I normally do every time I get on my mat, begin to even out my breath. The breathing slowed and evened out. Inhaling and exhaling for a six count. I knew that I could start yelling or screaming but doing so would put my life in greater danger and stress my children even more than they were. I began counting my breath as I could hear my kids call 911.


The next 15-20 minutes of waiting for rescue seemed like forever, but I stayed calm as I practiced my even breathing. The trail became my yoga mat. My practice took over and allowed me to move from a potential dorsal vagal (freeze) response toward social engagement (ventral vagal) where I could remain alert and connected to those who were helping me.


This next breath practice is what I practiced that day of my accident. It has many names. In yoga it’s called Sama Vritti Pranayama. In the world of science, it is often called resonance frequency breathing.


This practice works best when done everyday for about 10 or 20 minutes. You can do this lying down, with legs against a wall, in a chair, or in a comfortable sitting position on the ground. It works when it has become a habit. This is important. Trying to breathe this way when stressed does not work unless one has incorporated the practice and made it a daily habit.


The Practice

  • Find a comfortable position on your back or sitting down. Putting your legs up on a wall adds another element of rest to this practice.
  • Allow your breath to come to it’s natural rate. Practice your freedom breath for a little bit before starting. When inhaling and exhaling, do so through your nose.
  • Begin by inhaling for four seconds and exhaling for six. Do so until you feel comfortable.
  • Practice inhaling for five and exhaling for five.
  • When you feel comfortable, inhale for six and exhale for six. Keep this count for the remainder of the practice. Keep it between 10 and 20 minutes.

Tech Assistance

If you are interested in a guided even breath practice, download the free Breath App created by respected yoga teacher, Eddie Stern. The page provides a good description of this breath practice and it’s many benefits.


Module 3-Introduction

In this module we begin work on our end of semester essay. Think of this first writing assignment in this module as a way for you to bridge Earth below and sky above as I mention in An Orbit Around the Sun in the section called “Upward Hand Salute.”

Stretch. Draw up. Pull down. Consider doing a little bit of yoga before writing. Sense your body. Notice the soles of your feet. Can you draw your awareness seamlessly to your fingertips and back?

Take a mountain pose. Lift your arms up. Follow your breath as a inhale up. Imagine the arches of your feet drawing the air up to your fingers. Exhale drawing the air down and bringing your arms down.

ASSIGNMENT

Answer the following three questions in your your notebook:

–What do I care about?
–What do I know from experience?
–What can be of service to others?

Write at least three pages of brainstorming/free-writing in your notebook.

Remember that what you are writing is personal, but it should not violate your sense of privacy or be so difficult for you to write about that it triggers you. This is preliminary writing that will eventually turn into an essay.

Module 2 Reflection Letter

As you come to the end of this module, take time to look back. This helps us figure out what we are learning. It’s a simple but often difficult challenge we often avoid.


Instructions

Write a letter addressed to me. Write as much as you need to. Keep in mind what I have said about paragraph unity and using examples to support your main points. (Show me what you have learned.)

Develop your letter answering the following questions in the most effective way you can. Remember that I am your audience.

  • What have you learned about yourself and the world around you as you have worked with the material in this module?
  • Point to one of the texts in the module that particularly engaged you. What did it help you see either in a brand new way or from a slightly different perspective?
  • Have you practiced the movement, breath, meditation, and writing practices as I set out for you in Module 2? If yes, what did you discover practicing? If you did not, what got in the way? What would you have liked to have learned from the experience if you had practiced? (Clearly these questions need multiple paragraphs.)
  • What do you think you are going to write about for your final semester essay?
  • What do you need from our time together to make this a satisfying writing experience?

Take time to revise and edit. Double space. Submit your work to your Google Classroom page as either a Google Doc, Word file, or PDF file. (Please don’t upload Pages files nor provide a link.)

Power Move: Share the letter with one of your classmates prior to turning it in.

Don’t email with questions. Post these in the forum. Click the button and add ease and joy to my teaching life!

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Readings/Writing (Module 2)

1 From An Orbit Around the Sun

  • “The Promise”
  • “He Follows”
  • “I Became a Construction Worker”

All three readings from our book are stories that relate to immigration. Each is written from a first person perspective that provides an intimate view of what it means to be an immigrant in the United States.

Write a half page response for each of the readings in your notebook.

2 The next text I want you to engage with is a documentary on gangs in El Salvador. The film provides a context for “The Promise” and “He Follows.” It also is an example of using the power of story to convey a complex message.

When you write about this text, explore what you felt as you watched, what you learned, and what questions you were left with.

3 The next text is a story from the radio show “Only a Game.” When I heard the story, lots of bells and whistles went off in my mind. I definitely thought about the power of movement and mental health. I also felt moved by the story of Sherman and Zeke and how co-regulation doesn’t just happen between humans and humans. Take listen.

Here’s the post with the story in text form. Notice how the audio file changes the experience of the words and notice how narrative is used to convey a powerful message.

Take time to respond in your notebook. Write about what comes to mind. Consider exploring the idea of co-regulation and companion animals. I know my pup, Ozzie is someone who has shaped my life in powerful ways.

4 The next film takes on a different theme. Some of you may have seen it already on Netflix.

Watch and take notes. You may not be able to see it all in one sitting. Take your time. Watch it with someone else so that you can have conversation.

Once again, write about what you sensed in your own body. What did you learn from the film? Is there a connection between the theme of mass incarceration in the United States and the story of immigration you read in the stories and watched in the Vice film? Aim for a half page or full page response.

5 The last text for this module comes from poet Audre Lorde. “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action” is an essay that I find deeply moving and relevant to the work we are doing together.

What connections do you see between Lorde’s essay and any of the other readings? Explore without fear. In your response to this reading, write about your own experience with silence and what you are learning in terms of using your voice.

Reading | Writing

Take time each day to write in your notebook. This should take the form of using the autonomic pie chart check-in, a half page response for each of the texts (readings/films) that are assigned and a short response for your daily breath and movement practices.

If you have messy handwriting like me, you will write about 5-7 pages per week in your composition notebook. Date each entry. There may be times where I will ask you to use your notebook writing in formal writing assignments.

If what you want from this class is to strengthen your writing skills, develop your voice, and come out of this semester feeling as if you have done something worthwhile, writing in your notebook as I have just described is key.

Ocean Breath

This breath practice focuses on making our breath audible. It can serve as a reminder that life is expressing itself though us. Even in the most difficult of circumstances, we can practice this breath and invite ourselves into greater spaciousness. Clearly this does not happen right away. It takes time.

The sound of our breath is a primal reminder. The first sound that we hear as human being is of our mother’s heartbeat in the womb. Her breath also moved us and provided the first messages of care and love. From a larger story perspective, this breath connects us not just to our mothers, but to all of our ancestors. I takes us back to our ocean relatives swimming in a salty ocean much like our blood. It invites us back to the pattern of ebb and flow of tides.

Taking time each day to practice this breath, while in bed or in any kind of activity, especially when we begin to notice that we are moving down the autonomic nervous system ladder away from social engagement toward flight/fight or freeze can help us remain present in our bodies.

When practicing yoga poses as a flowing sequence, ocean breathing transforms the movement into a meditation.

The Practice

To learn this breath practice, start from an easy seated pose/sukhasana.

Place your non-dominant hand on your lap or knee. The other hand place cup in front of your mouth.

Inhale through your nose and exhale with your mouth open, letting the breath out through the back of the throat. Do an even inhale and exhale by counting in your mind to four for each. Imagine fogging up a mirror. Notice the sound you make as you do this. Do this about for about 10 cycles (One inhale and exhale is one cycle).

When comfortable and noticing the back of the throat, do 10 cycles where you inhale through your mouth but making the same sound through the back of the throat as in the previous cycle. That is, draw the inhale through the back of the throat. Keep the exhale as you did previously. Practice to where you notice the sound evenly both on the inhale and exhale. The inhale is usually more challenging.

Once you have sensed the breath and can hear it in the inhale and exhale, practice with your mouth closed. Inhaling for four
making a whispering/hissing/ocean sound and exhaling for four
making a whispering/hissing ocean sound.

As simple as this may seem, it takes practice and warm up. I usually find that at the start of my practice my inhale is soundless. It’s after a bit of warming up that I can begin to hear
the sound and sense the throat caressing the breath.

As you do this practice, remember to keep the flow of the breath without stopping on the inhale or exhale. Don’t hold your breath at either end. You are like the ocean waves coming in and going out. Notice if you have any tension in your face and jaw. If you do, gently draw your attention there and release. Placing the tongue on the roof of the mouth is also helpful.

Seated Practices

Sitting Practice

The following poses can be done by themselves and in combination. The main thing to keep in mind is to pay attention to your body. Avoiding pain is key. If anything does not feel right, skip or modify. The breath is most important. If we were in a face to face setting, I could work with a more skillful set of poses keeping your needs in mind. For now, I want to offer these as a starting point.

Easy Seated Twists

These sitting practices can be done on the ground or sitting in a chair.

Balancing the weight of the body on both sit bones along with keeping the back long are important. When turning to the side, do so in two steps and on the exhale. That is, take an inhale and on the exhale turn and pause, take another inhale and on the exhale twist further but don’t do so powering yourself through the twist. Listen to your body. Take time to scan from the soles of your feet to the crown of your head.

These sitting practices can be done on the ground or sitting in a chair. Balancing the weight of the body on both sit bones along with keeping the back long are important. When turning to the side, do so in at least two steps and on the exhale. That is, take an inhale and on the exhale turn and pause, take another inhale and on the exhale twist further but don’t do so powering yourself through the twist. Listen to your body. Take time to scan from the soles of your feet to the crown of your head.

Variations

Improvise and move in ways that feel good. Before starting, try lifting arms in the air on the inhale and bringing them down on the exhale. You can take one arm up and the other one about a foot to the side and leaning toward the side where the hand is on the ground.

Seated Forward Fold with Side Stretches

From a easy seated pose (1), find your breath. Take your time practicing even breathing at first and then adding ocean breathing. Inhale and on the exhale walk your hands forward to the point before your back begins to round. Keep your back long.

Take a moment to notice your awareness of the front of the body and the back of the body. Is the awareness even or do you find yourself sensing one side more than the other?

After a time of exploring, inhale and on the exhale walk your hands forward. Stay there without exerting too much effort. Take an inhale and on the exhale, walk to the right side. Go about 60% of your capacity.

Sense your body as you pause and breathe. Tent your fingers and notice your back.

Inhale and on the exhale move your hands back to center. Pause. Tent your fingers. Sense. Inhale and on the exhale move your hands the left. Tent your fingers. Move your shoulders. Explore sensation. Come back to center on the exhale and take time to notice sensations without judgement.

Do this sequence several times.

Cat/Cow Stretches

On hands and knees, place knees right under hips and hands right under shoulders. From a neutral position and on the inhale, arch the back. On the exhale, round the back. Do this for a couple of minutes. Exploring the breath and the sensations in the lower and upper back.

Balancing Table Pose

On hands and knees, inhale and lift right leg back. Point toes down. Draw your belly toward the spine. Sense your gluten and back. On the next inhale, lift left arm up. Reach forward. Palm faces right. Spread fingers out.

Sense the right side of the body.

Notice your balance. Hold for three inhales and exhales. On the last exhale, bring both knee and hand down. Repeat the same way on the opposite side. Do this several times. You can vary the movement by bringing knee and elbow together on the exhale. As you do, round your back, bring chin toward chest.

Variation of One-Legged Seated Spinal Twist Pose

Start with both legs extended. Point toes up. Lengthen back. Sit balanced. Sense your back and hips. On the next exhale, bring your right foot in as much as your body allows. Hug your knee. Take your time and establish your breath. On the next exhale, take your left arm and hook the crease of your elbow on your knee.

Lengthen and take your right hand and place behind you to keep back long. Turn to your right. Explore and remember to avoid pain. Hold the pose and find your breath as you do. Keep flexing your foot or pointing the toes up.

When ready, on an exhale come to center and repeat on the left side. Notice your back, hips and legs. Finish by stretching out both legs.

After your daily practice, take time to write in your notebook. Explore any sensations and emotions you are experiencing. Track your autonomic state (ventral, sympathetic, or dorsal.)

Movement

The next set of pages are some movement sequences you can experiment with as you practice with your breath. Although you may not break a sweat, these are meant to help you stretch and become better acquainted with befriending the body and noticing more subtle changes as a result of your breathing patterns.

Your body is your primary teacher. Make sure that if something does not feel right or feels painful, to step back from those set of poses.