Micah Mortali: Rewilding

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December 17, 2019

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Micah Mortali is the director of the Kripalu School, a certified yoga teacher, and a longtime wilderness guide. With Sounds True, he has published Rewilding: Meditations, Practices, and Skills for Awakening in Nature. In this episode of Insights at the Edge, Tami Simon speaks with Micah about humanity’s growing disconnection from the earth and how “rewilding” can help slow that trend. They talk about rewilding both as individuals and as part of whole ecosystems. Micah also shares the story of an intense, revelatory trail encounter with a bear and comments on the “species loneliness” of urban environments. Mulling the sense of grief they have for humankind’s effects on the environment, Tami and Micah consider how modern people can grapple with being in exile from the natural world. Finally, they discuss the barriers many have to reentering nature, as well as ways to initiate your own rewilding experience no matter where you are.(64 minutes)

Micah Mortali is director of the Kripalu Schools, one of the largest and most established centers for yoga-based education in the world. An avid outdoorsman, mindful wilderness guide, 500-hour Kripalu yoga teacher, and popular meditation teacher, Mortali has been leading groups in wilderness and retreat settings for 20 years. In 2018, he founded the Kripalu School of Mindful Outdoor Leadership. Mortali has a passion for helping people come home to themselves and the earth, and he is finishing his Master’s at Goddard College on nature awareness and mindfulness practices. He lives with his wife and children in the Berkshires. For more, visit kripalu.org.

Also By Author

The Place You Awaken

Establishing a place for regular outdoor meditation and nature observation is often referred to as a “sit spot” or “medicine spot”.  Like the Buddha, who found his own tree of awakening, we too can go to nature and practice being awake to the reality of the present moment.  This practice can also help us become more intimate with all the qualities of the land we live with.  

If one day I see a small bird and recognize it, a thin thread will form between me and that bird. If I just see it but don’t really recognize it, there is no thin thread. If I go out tomorrow and see and really recognize that same individual small bird again, the thread will thicken and strengthen just a little. Every time I see and recognize that bird, the thread strengthens. Eventually it will grow into a string, then a cord, and finally a rope. This is what it means to be a Bushman. We make ropes with all aspects of the creation in this way.” 

San bushman

Guided Sit Spot Practice

  1. Go to a place in nature that is close to where you live and that you can visit regularly.
  1. Take a few moments to center yourself, breathing in and out, and arriving fully in the present moment.
  1. As you are ready begin to walk mindfully with an intention to find a spot that calls out to you, a place you can sit and deepen your relationship with this place.  The spot should feel welcoming, safe and comfortable.  It could be under a tree, beside a boulder or in an open space.  Often, east facing spots can be nice for early morning sits.
  1. When you find a spot that feels good, in your own way, ask permission of that place and wait to see what comes to you.  If you feel invited, sit.  If not, keep looking.
  1. Once in your spot, sit comfortably and become as still as you can.  Imagine that you are melting into the earth, becoming a part of the land.  Sit for at least 15-30 minutes, noticing any movement, sounds, or other sensations and activities.
  1. Return often.

Find more practices for connecting to nature in Rewilding: Meditations, Practices, and Skills for Awakening in Nature by Micah Mortali.

Read Rewilding today!

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Nature Meditation by a Window

With many people home-bound, we may need to get creative in seeking ways to connect with the natural world.  Sitting by an open window is one excellent practice for connecting with the outdoors, and it can be a powerful form of nature meditation as well.

“What is life?  It is the flash of a firefly in the night.  It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime.  It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.”

Crowfoot, Orator of the Blackfoot Confederacy

  1. Find a comfortable seat by an open window that looks outdoors.  
  2. Morning, during the dawn chorus when birds are most active, can be a perfect time to enjoy your morning coffee or tea as you observe a new day emerge.
  3. Set an intention to stay present, letting go of thoughts or stories in your mind as they arise, and instead focusing your attention on whatever is fascinating in your environment.
  4. Sit for at least 15-30 minutes if you can.  Practice regularly to help alleviate stress, increase your sense of connection with your local environment, and awaken your senses.

Micah Mortali Facebook Live clickable image for guided meditation earthday

 

Find more practices for connecting to nature in Rewilding: Meditations, Practices, and Skills for Awakening in Nature by Micah Mortali.

Read Rewilding today!

Sounds True | Amazon | Barnes&Noble | Bookshop

The Basics of Nature Mindfulness

Ursasana: Bear Posture

Many years ago, a bear sat down next to me while I was meditating in the woods. It was an afternoon in mid-October in the Berkshires, and I had been mountain biking in my favorite preserve. I took a break from riding to enjoy the perfect fall afternoon. I was overflowing with gratitude. My life was going well.

I sat under a strong oak tree and closed my eyes. I asked Spirit to come and sit with me, to share in my heartfelt thanksgiving. I spoke the words aloud and immediately heard footsteps in the woods behind me. They got closer, but I continued with my meditation, until directly behind me, I heard a twig snap and a loud exhalation through a very big nose. I knew in that moment, in every cell of my body, that a bear was behind me.

My heart pounded, and adrenaline surged through my body. I was totally alert and aware. I very slowly turned my head to look behind me and saw shining black fur from shoulder to rump, close enough to reach out and touch. It was a large black bear. Immediately my mind provided options for survival. Get up and run away? Get up and yell to scare the bear away? Climb a tree? Those ideas seemed bad. Sit still, do nothing, and breathe? Yes, that made sense. And so I did. I slowed my breathing and meditated on the intensity of my body’s response to this perceived threat.

In my yoga I had learned that strong sensations and emotions, including fear, can be powerful doorways into meditation. Rather than turning away from an uncomfortable experience, I had learned to breathe into what I was feeling. In this case, the fight-or-flight response was a huge wave washing over my mind, body, and soul. Instead of making a big story about what was happening, I remembered to face the experience in all of its raw power. I had the thought, This is the coolest thing that has ever happened to me! I had another thought, too: This might be the worst thing that has ever happened to me! Many hundreds of hours, I had practiced breathing through the intense sensations of yoga postures, watching my experience without reaction and allowing things to be the way they are. All that training on the mat was now being put to the test in a pose I had never tried before, Bear Pose, or Ursasana.

For a moment, I wondered how it might feel to be bitten by a bear. That was not a helpful thought, so I returned to my breathing. Moments seemed to stretch into hours. The bear walked out from behind the tree and sat next to me. It was smelling me. Still I remained motionless. In time, the bear walked away. I turned to look as it walked away. It turned to look back at me. Our eyes met, and then it disappeared down the hill. I stood up and fell down, my legs weak and wobbly. I stood again and got to my bike. I climbed on board and pedaled out of those woods like a bat out of hell!

For days, I was in a state of profound shock and elation. My life was filled with magic, possibility, and power. Anything could happen. I felt incredibly alive. The presence of the bear stayed with me—even to this day. I have never been a thrill seeker or adrenaline junkie. I’ve never jumped out of an airplane or tried bungee jumping. I’ve always been drawn to more meditative outdoor activities, like canoeing, archery, or watching birds. But sitting in meditation with a bear gave me an unexpected adrenaline jolt.

While sitting with a bear is not likely to happen to many people, you may encounter other life-forms or elements that can help you awaken and experience a greater degree of aliveness. We long for connection with our relatives who roam the forests and wildlands, and we still find nourishment in their company. In mindful rewilding, we open ourselves up to the sensations and life-giving experiences that the land holds for us. Such moments of communion between you and the living earth can open doorways into a more magical, mysterious, and meaningful life. And it makes all the difference to have the right mental tools and preparation to help you ride the waves of powerful energies you will encounter in both the human and the more-than-human worlds.

When sitting with that bear, I used a technique we lovingly call “BRFWA”: Breathe, Relax, Feel, Watch, and Allow. You might use BRFWA on your first walk in a park or a wood that is new to you. You might use it during your first solo camping experience or when you see an animal that frightens you. I once used BRFWA when I got caught in a rip current while swimming off the Big Island of Hawaii. It allowed me to remain calm and to act skillfully, possibly saving my life. In any survival situation, the first advice is almost always to remain calm and think, not to react or panic. But how we are supposed to do that is not often explained. 

By practicing mindful rewilding, you are not looking to put yourself in a survival situation, though many of these skills can help you feel more confident and capable when you’re away from the conveniences of modern society. Inevitably, the more time we spend outdoors, the more likely we are to come up against our comfort zone or find ourselves in a situation where remaining calm and being skillful are necessary. In these moments, BRFWA can be a great ally.

I recommend that you use BRFWA regularly as a moment-to-moment practice. Using it daily will support your developing a general state of mindfulness. You can also use BRFWA to go deeper into a pleasant experience. Maybe you practice it when you take a walk or when you dip your feet in a cool stream or when you feel a fresh breeze moving through your neighborhood. Practice BRFWA regularly so that when something truly challenging happens, it is second nature for you, as it was for me when I had my encounters with the bear and the rip current.

BRFWA: Breathe, Relax, Feel, Watch, Allow

To begin working with BRFWA outdoors, try the following steps:

  1. Go outside. Find a place where you can sit comfortably and have a view of a natural, outdoor space. (This might also be the place where you want to establish your daily nature meditation.)
  2. Get grounded. Feel your sitz bones and imagine they are plugging in to the earth. As you ground down through your seat, also lengthen your spine and let it rise up through the crown of your head. Imagine that your spine is the trunk of a great tree and you are the bridge that connects the heavens and the earth.
  3. Breathe. Soften your belly, and slowly deepen your breathing with each inhalation and exhalation. If possible, breathe in and out through the nose. A good ratio for this breath is to inhale for four counts and hold the breath gently for seven counts; then exhale for eight counts, and repeat the cycle. As you breathe, notice the qualities of the air. What is the temperature? Is it hot, cold, or somewhere in between? How moist or dry is the air? What can you smell? Leaves, pine needles, the smoke from nearby fireplaces? In which direction is the wind moving? What can you hear? Your breath, your heartbeat, your joints settling? Branches creaking against each other, leaves rustling in the breeze, dew dripping to the ground, chipmunks or squirrels scampering, crows cawing, pigeons cooing, an airplane passing overhead?
  4. Relax. As you breathe, begin to consciously scan your body. Notice any places where you are holding tension. Focus on each of these places, as you continue to breathe calmly and deeply, and invite these places to soften and let go. Maybe your forehead is tense, and your brow is furrowed. Maybe your shoulders are tight and raised with tension. Perhaps your jaw is clenched. See if you can allow your jaw to relax, so that your teeth are parted. Invite your tongue to sit heavy and relaxed in your mouth, with the tip of the tongue resting against the ridge of skin behind your two front top teeth. With each exhalation, feel tension melting out of your body, mind, and spirit. Relax into the support of the earth element. Feel the earth beneath you and within your bones and muscles.
  5. Feel. As you continue to breathe and relax, notice what you can feel. Notice your body and what your body can feel—the air on your skin, the earth against your buttocks and legs, the light on your skin or coming through your clothing. Notice your heart and how you are feeling right now, not from a place of judgment, but from a place of compassion for yourself, and from a larger perspective, from your witness. Notice how the breath moving in and out helps you to feel more. This is one of the great secrets of yoga: the more deeply you breathe, the more of your own life you can feel.
  6. Watch. Be the witness. Observe your experience and allow as much space as you can for whatever is happening to be the way it is. Simply observe the land around you. Notice movement wherever it may be. Watch the play of light and the subtle movement created by the atmosphere’s constant state of motion. Watch everything, and be curious about any life you see, whether birds in the bushes or trees, ants crawling on the ground, or a squirrel leaping from limb to limb. When you come into the present moment using these steps, doors of perception will open to you. You will see the world through new eyes.
  7. Allow. Let it be. Let the moment be exactly the way that it is. Let go of grasping to your idea of what this moment should be. Let go of any aversion to things as they are. See if you can simply allow this moment to be as it is, and give yourself the opportunity to experience this moment right now in its pure expression. No matter the weather, no matter the terrain, can you allow this living earth and your relationship with it to be the way that it is? Moment by moment, can you keep letting go of your opinions, preferences, and judgments? It’s not easy for any of us, which is why we practice. This awareness is something to come back to moment after moment after moment, always beginning again.
  8. This is an excerpt from Rewilding: Meditations, Practices, and Skills for Awakening in Nature by Micah Mortali.

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Mindful Movement: Walking Meditation 101

The Here and Now

What if you could change your life by doing one thing for just ten seconds each day? What if this thing would make you more contented, more grounded, and less stressed?

Welcome to mindfulness.

We spend almost all of our time worrying about two things: what has already happened (the past) and what hasn’t happened yet (the future). This only makes us miserable. The past is over, so there’s nothing we can do about it. And the future isn’t something we should be thinking about right now—unless we’re taking concrete action toward a goal.

Mindfulness breaks us out of this pattern by turning our awareness to the simple moments of life as they happen. We laser in on our senses as we’re experiencing them, and we feel them deeply.

So, the way to “be deep” is to focus on what’s going on right now.

I have two favorite ways to zap into the present moment.

The first way is to briefly tune in to my breath a few times a day. Set an alarm on your watch or phone to go off at three set times during the day. When it goes off, close your eyes and take three deep breaths. Notice how the breath feels as it flows in and out. Let go of whatever else is going on in your mind. Then open your eyes and go back to your day.

The second way is to tune in to the little details of the day. Say you’re picking up a water bottle. Consider this: How does the bottle feel in your hand? Is it heavy or light? When you take a sip of the water, how does it feel on your tongue? Is it cool or warm? What does it taste like? Try this exercise with one small act each day.

deepMINDFUL MOVEMENT: Walking Meditation

Walking meditation is a great way to de-stress and get centered while moving your body and getting some fresh air. It takes only a few minutes, so you can do it almost anywhere.

  1. The next time you’re walking down the street, start by getting your senses alert. Tune in to the pace of your steps and fall into the rhythm of the steps. What do they sound like?
  2. Turn your attention to an object you see as you’re walking. It might be a sign, a tree, or a building. Look intently at that object and observe it without labeling it. Just notice it.
  3. Now turn your attention to the noises that surround you. Don’t label them. Just listen.
  4. Finally, turn your attention to your breathing. Is it fast and shallow or slow and deep? Take a few deep breaths and continue with your steady pace.
  5. When you finish your walking meditation, take a minute and pause before reentering your day. Notice the way your body and mind feel. Carry that alertness and presence with you into the rest of your day

walking meditation

This is an excerpt from the chapter “Be Deep” from Whole Girl: Live Vibrantly, Love Your Entire Self, and Make Friends with Food by Sadie Radinsky.

 

sadie radinskySadie Radinsky is a 19-year-old blogger and recipe creator. For over six years, she has touched the lives of girls and women worldwide with her award-winning website, wholegirl.com, where she shares paleo treat recipes and advice for living an empowered life. She has published articles and recipes in national magazines and other platforms, including Paleo, Shape, Justine, mindbodygreen, and The Primal Kitchen Cookbook. She lives in the mountains of Los Angeles. For more, visit wholegirl.com.

 

 

 

 

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Kundalini Yoga to Dissolve the Barriers of Fear

Each of us has amazing potential for creating health, happiness, love, and a life of fulfillment. Deep in our hearts, we know we have the ability to activate and generate a life of our highest calling. The question is: Are we allowing the magnificent brightness of our true selves to shine, or are we hiding the radiance we were born with? Just as a diamond needs light to sparkle, our own true self needs the release of its inner light to be fulfilled.

This book is about clearing our energetic restrictions so our true selves shine as wonderfully as they can, in accord with our natural, inherent ability. The ancient practices of kundalini yoga are incredibly effective tools in this modern age for activating the elusive, hidden release of magnetism we are born with. The exercises open up energy pathways within our body, so we can experience vibrant health, abundance, love, empathy, intuition, and an expanded sense of connection with others.

Many people are experiencing a tangible soul-level drive for self-actualization. It feels like a voice deeply connected with the center of our being that is waiting to be heard. But although we feel it calling inside, we suppress it with self-limiting beliefs, and our unique brilliance remains hidden beneath layers of politeness and emotional armor. We may distract ourselves with our busy lives, stifle our yearnings, and go to sleep feeling so unfulfilled night after night that we become used to it. There are a hundred ways to hide the sensitive, beautiful nature of who we are.

In this era, many of us are noticing an inner voice persistently reminding us to leave behind our fears and step into the magnificence that we naturally possess. And the urging, calling, and whispering of this inner voice can no longer be ignored. If you have picked up this book, chances are that you are hearing it yourself.

The Secret Yoga of Energy

Kundalini yoga is an ancient, time-tested system of exercise and meditation that boosts our energy, synchronizes the impulses of our nervous system, releases energetic blockages, balances our hormones, and uplifts our attitude to allow the pure radiance of our authentic self to shine. While other branches of yoga focus primarily on physical postures, kundalini yoga focuses on how the postures alter our energy and mind-set. Postures, movement, breathing, meditation, mantras, and lifestyle come together to bring about remarkable transformations of personal energy. The term kundalini refers to the concentrated living energy that opens up our potential. It is an energy that is dormant yet calls us to be awakened within. Once activated, it permeates us, energizes our cells to bring health and vitality, and connects our consciousness with the infinite. The techniques of kundalini yoga were developed over the course of thousands of years and are highly effective tools for opening up our energy pathways so the right amount of energy at the right frequency can flow smoothly through our entire being.

Kundalini yoga works on the principle that our physical body and our energy move hand in hand. What we do with our body has a parallel effect on our energy, and, likewise, what we do with our energy has a parallel effect on our body. For example, tightness in our hamstrings is actually a blockage in the energy that otherwise would be flowing through that area of our body. We call that tightness an opacity because it is blocking the flow of inner light. Using the ancient techniques of kundalini yoga to stretch the muscle or move a limb through the energy field that surrounds our body, we can release the corresponding blocked-up energy. Our inner light can then start flowing into an area where it was restricted before. The resulting effect on our body and mind is absolutely profound.

Not only does the muscle itself become more limber, but our consciousness shifts, our mind becomes clearer, and the new energy optimizes our functioning at the genetic level. As the light flows through our energy field, our awareness comes alive. Our energy level soars, and, like a flower emerging from the soil after a long, cold winter, we feel alive and hopeful.

Kundalini yoga was kept secret in India for thousands of years, taught only to devotees who were deemed worthy. In the 1960s, Yogi Bhajan moved from his home country of India to the United States. He began teaching kundalini yoga as a technology for self-improvement, and it quickly became popular. He authored more than thirty books and traveled extensively, teaching kundalini yoga around the globe until his passing in 2004. The authors have studied kundalini yoga extensively. In this book, for historical accuracy, we have sourced the exercises so you can see whether an exercise was taught by Yogi Bhajan, is a classic from the ages, or is a visualization we bring to help explain a topic.

The Kundalini Spirit

Practicing kundalini yoga often results in a natural sensation of oneness with a universal force greater than our limited sense of self. Yet kundalini yoga is not a religion, can be practiced by anyone with any spiritual belief, and does not require any particular spiritual philosophy. It is typical for the practices to enhance one’s feelings of spirituality, whether you belong to a formal religion or not. Flashes of insight, cosmic breakthroughs, tears of joy, and sobs of surrender are normal occurrences when the wondrous flood of our own energy is finally allowed to emerge through the layers of shielding we have put up all our lives. We encourage you to allow yourself to be swept up in the gift of spiritual experience rather than resisting out of fear. In fact, it is high time to give up the fear of your own brightness. Throughout this book, we use the terms God, the infinite, spirit source, and the universe to reflect the oneness of universal spirit in kundalini yoga. However, these are simply terms, and you are invited to carry the sense of spirit that works for you from this book into your life while leaving the rest behind.

You Are Invited

And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.

ANAÏS NIN

We all have a choice: to access the core of light that our soul has been yearning to express, opening our inner passages to allow our luminescence fully into our life, or to hide our unique way of shining behind a facade of social acceptance that we often have spent many years building. When we make the choice to uncover our true self, kundalini yoga provides exceptional tools to help us. If we practice with courage, vulnerability, and dedication, we are able to entertain a calm, centered power far beyond the ordinary. 

We are inviting you to follow the path of least resistance—the path of flow. By removing energetic blocks and aligning our personal authenticity with the grace of the universe, we take the first step on the path of miracles. We invite you to begin your journey into the light of your own being.

Courage to Shine

If we honestly ask ourselves what in our day-to-day life prevents us from expressing the pure love at the core of our being, the answer is always fear. We hide our true selves to fit in, to be polite, and to avoid offending anyone. Rather than encouraging ourselves to transform, we find comfort in conforming to a world that is struggling. To break free of our challenges, we must be willing to live in our authentic expression of truth. This is our “Sat Nam,” the genuine truth of our manifestation vibrating at its highest frequency.

We are a new creation. All of us. It may be beyond our state of comprehension to acknowledge this in our minds, but our hearts know this truth. We are glowing and growing as a species, and it is essential that we do not fall back into entrenched patterns of fear. The inner light we tap into in quiet moments of connection to the soul is a reminder of the love the universe feels for us. Sometimes all we need is a few minutes to bring ourselves back into the quiet connection.

Kundalini Yoga to Dissolve the Barriers of Fear

Most of the things we fear are not real. Most of the things we fear never in fact happen. Fear is an emotion that gets stuck in the mind and resonates in our aura. It stimulates our sympathetic nervous system to go on high alert, and this takes a long time to settle back out of. The response to fear is hardwired into us from our cave person evolution, but the calling of the modern age is how to be courageous in living our truth as spiritual beings while we still carry the genes for survival from tiger attacks in every cell of our body.

The following set is a quick and potent one that works on releasing accumulated effects of fear that constrict the flow of energy through the life nerve, vagus nerve, and aura. It helps shake off the energetic debris that holds us back from living to our highest, fullest potential.

1 Lie on your back. Lift your left leg up in the air and shake it vigorously for one to three minutes. Lower it down. Lift the right leg up and shake it vigorously for the same length of time.

kundalini step 1

2 Come up to a seated position. Reach your arms up to sixty degrees on either side of your head, creating a V shape. Open your palms toward the sky and flop the hands open from the wrists. Breathe deeply and gaze at the tip of your nose. Feel yourself receiving the light of the divine while you surrender any barriers you hold inside. Let go. Continue for three minutes.

3 Bring your arms down, breathe gently, and relax. Feel yourself opening and allowing the full magnificence of your soul to shine.

step 2 and 3

This is an excerpt from Essential Kundalini Yoga: An Invitation to Radiant Health, Unconditional Love, and the Awakening of Your Energetic Potential by Karena Virginia and Dharm Khalsa.

 

bio photoKarena Virginia is a certified healer and registered yoga instructor who has taught in the Kundalini and Hatha schools for nearly 20 years. Before her career as a spiritual teacher, she worked in the entertainment industry as an actor and model. Karena’s work encourages us to connect with our own personal truth through love, compassion, inner beauty, and radiance.

 

 

 

 

 

bio photo 2Dharm Khalsa is a board member of the Siri Singh Sahib Corporation, the nonprofit overseeing kundalini yoga in the US since founder Yogi Bhajan’s passing. Trained directly by Yogi Bhajan, for whom he was a personal assistant for eight years, Dharm has taught kundalini yoga since 1980. He lives in New Mexico.

 

 

 

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