Dear Yoga Friends,
Dear Yoga Friends,
Deep breathing and focus on the breath is just one beginning practice towards meditation, yet, Meditation is not this.
As an artist I could get “lost” in my work. Deep in concentration. I often get lost in ecstasy when dancing, I lose track of time similar to meditation, yet this is not meditation either!
If you get lost in asana practice, nature,making music or art or gardening, you may have entered an altered state similar to meditation, many would call this meditation. I would call it a taste; there is vastly more.
I had learned and share guided relaxation decades ago. I practiced techniques to “cool-down” students ending fitness classes. Now I do this in savasana and restorative yoga classes. Students greatly appreciate these moments of peace. The benefits of deep relaxation practice are numerous; calmer mind, increased energy, release of tensions in the body, Yet, this is not meditation.
In the early 1990’s I attended a meditation class taught by Deepak Chopra, He did a guided meditation that was a profound experience for me. I think of him often now, and have read his books, though for many years I didn’t practice meditation.
In the mid 90’s I met an extraordinary individual who was able to move and heal with energy. He spent many hours a day in meditation. At that time I didn’t understand the connection. I was blessed to have had those years of friendship and healing with Jeremiah. He practiced meditation and many people received profound healing and guidance from him. He was a great teacher, a fountain of love. I met him when he was in his 40’s. He had survived a tragic accident at 19 years old. After this injury (broken neck) he lived decades longer,surprising medical experts. He was genuinely at peace, even though his body suffered much pain as a quadriplegic. He practiced meditation daily!
In the late 1990s I was introduced to HeartMath biofeedback. Direct measurements of the metabolic and systolic heart rhythms combined with techniques to calm the mind showed directly in the program’s feedback. I used this program myself and with children who had experienced trauma. HeartMath is great technology and the HeartMath Institute is growing in it’s scope. It is a marvelous tool to help in relaxation and self awareness and self control (emotional health, PTSD)
This is not meditation, though it is a very good starting point for many people.
Discipline and daily practice opens up worlds of possibilities and awareness.
In 2009 I began study of Reiki, my Masters (teachers) instructed me to do it every day. I did Reiki meditation and energy work on myself daily for a year. This form of meditation I was able to stick with. Within months I began to shift into more awareness and profound peace. After Level 2, I began working on others as well and “saw” everyone’s inner beauty and a flow of love. Reiki meditation and healing opened up new sensibilities and awareness. I continued Reiki training to (Masters) Level 3. I came to understand more of what Jeremiah and Deepak Chopra were teaching! Other healers and traditions from many cultures; meditation is at the center of their practices.
These experiences where a good foundation for true meditation.
In 2010 I had the opportunity to take over a yoga class which I had been attending. I knew from past training that if I was to teach yoga, I had to practice asana and silent seated meditation daily, which I began in the months before taking over the class.
I got to where I could sit still for an hour meditation, yet, I would only have fleeting moments where there was peace, where the mental chatter would subside.
These brief moments where so profound that I continued finding it well worth the hour of sitting every day!
Silent meditation showed me how noisy my mind was and even now, how noise my mind can be!
Now, often during the day no matter how “stressful” or what events are going on, I can return to that peace within a few conscious breaths. This allows me to stay authentic and present. When I have peace with-in I can be present to others in a meaningful way.
Have I experienced enlightenment?
Yes! and no, and yes! It can be fleeting and can be found again in meditation.
True enlightenment is when that peace is carried out into every part of every day.
Personally, I do yoga asana to quiet my mind and prepare my body for seated meditation. When I began daily practice of both, I experienced amazing healing for my mind and body, and more… beyond words, language and description! I have also come to understand the energy that is within and around us.
Asana can lift us out of discomfort in the body. Meditation can help us have peace even when the body is in pain.
“Illuminated emancipation, freedom, unalloyed and untainted bliss await you, but you have to choose to embark on the Inward Journey to discover it.” BKS Iyengar
“disturbances of the mind and emotions fade away, and we are able to see true reality.” BKS Iyengar
Walking is the most under-rated exercise!!!
I was fortunate to grow up in a small town where we walked: to friends, to the park, to ice skate, for picnics on the grass. I also walked several blocks to school. Walking is great for many reasons, such as; focusing the eyes on sights at various distances, (vestibular functioning & eyesight) enjoying nature, trees, the sky, fresh air, and using systems of muscular integration to propel the body forward and remain balanced.
Even if you are very active, if you are not walking regularly, you may not be resetting the body in an important natural way.
Humans were meant to walk. Walking is one way our body resets its natural alignment. It is weight bearing exercise. Walking is natural movement that involves moving all of your muscles and tissue, increasing metabolism, lubricating the joints, increasing blood flow and oxygen to all the cells of the body, nourishing our physical being.
Walking energizes the body, as well as relaxes the mind: walking can even be a meditation. Walking can also be calming for the emotions, through appreciating beauty, nature, fresh air, sunshine, rain, seeing the people of your neighborhood; all this can lift your spirits.
Recently, I overheard a conversation between young people (mid 20’s) talking about numerous ailments, medications, and procedures, which hadn’t brought relief. One young woman said “I wish I was in shape to exercise”, another responded “me too”. I wondered if they considered a walking as a possibility.
I work with older people (up to 102 years old) some who don’t spend any time talking about ailments and medicine; because they are busy living life! They stayed active, they do daily walking.
In the past, (and for many people currently), our bodies are the primary tool of transportation, used with care and awareness for survival and longevity. Sedentary wasn’t an option! Now, the many conveniences of modern life: cars, furniture, chair-toilets, and media are enabling many people to be less mobile, less flexible, less connected and less aware.
Walking is enough to change the whole paradigm of the sedentary lifestyle.
A brisk daily walk, 30-45 minutes, is sound, healthy, preventative medicine. It is that simple, yet not easy; breaking habits & starting new habits requires determination, commitment and an open, flexible mind). Who knows, after this is a habit, you might find yourself enjoying yoga, dance, or a long hike!
It can be a real challenge to begin! Creating time may mean letting some things go…let them go!!! Invest the time to nurture personal health and peace of mind. How does your self-talk, activity and lifestyle affect starting and continuing your walking routine??? Notice who are your allies for healthy Living??? Having walking buddies increases success! Who could be your walking buddy?
Yoga is an art. As a kid I wanted to play guitar. I went to lessons. I didn’t practice between lessons. My teacher kept saying “you can’t really learn without practicing at home”. He told me this every week. He could tell I wasn’t practicing. I think he got tired of going over the same bits over and over, which was all he could do because I didn’t practice. I didn’t progress much at playing guitar either; I lost interest and quit after less than a year of lessons.
Just as a musician must practice their musical instrument daily, or a dancer practice every day, yoga students who want to make progress will have to find the self-discipline to start a daily practice on their own.
The most important reasons to begin and continue a home practice
What is a daily “home” or “individual” practice?
Daily – Honestly, 5 to 7 times a week is GREAT!!!
Home – in your home, have a place for doing yoga, a place you like, it can be in any room, outside on nice days… Have a time for yoga; most people who don’t chose a specific time for yoga have trouble doing it 5 to 7 times a week. I carved out time in the early morning, because too much can happen once my day is started.
Individual – Just you with yourself. It can be done with or around others, but you are doing your yoga, no chatting, no interruptions, no TV, phone, no distractions!
Practice – is not a competition, not an exhibition, not a performance and not a race! Let it be stress-free. Cultivate a patient mind. Some days you’ll be slow and other days you will feel like being fierce. You will learn to honor where you are at.
How do you begin a home practice? To start, you do what you can remember from class (so yes, do attend classes.) Take your time getting into and out of postures, and hold postures longer, to make discoveries and build strength.
It is a great idea to get an individual session to design and refine your daily practice, after a few weeks, then at least once a year.
BUT... “I don’t have time for it every day.” By making time for a daily practice the rest of your day will be more productive. The rest of your day will be less stressful. These blogs discus how yoga does this in more detail; yoga for beating stress yoga as tool against fatigue
“I don’t care if I make progress I’m just doing yoga for maintenance.” There is no such thing as maintaining, unless you are making progress. Unless you are strengthening muscles in your body, and moving in your full range of motion 4-6 times a week. Exercise is stimulus. The changes to body tissue happens in the 24 to 48 hours afterwards. You become weaker and more rigid after 48 hours. This is even truer as you get older. After the 48 hours… if there is no stimulus again your hard work begins to get undone. Period, that’s it. (After months and years of daily yoga you maintain better flexibility if you do miss some days or weeks, your base-line has gotten higher).
“I do enough other exercise.” Great! But, by doing a home practice of yoga, you’re less likely to get injured doing other exercises and be able to do them longer as you age.
“I’m active in my daily work (or life).” Most often, in our daily routine, we do many repetitive movements, with the focus on what we are doing rather than the body and mind doing it. We use limited amount of the many muscles, less range of motion and less systematic use of many muscles. If your work is hard physical labor, less and/or “restorative” yoga might be what you need to practice at home.
It means we face life head-on! We look at the hard stuff inside of us and outside in the world. That inner peace, is a reserve, so no matter what is going on outside, you are coming from a place of peace, rather than fear, anger, hatred, greed or pride.
As yogis we discover another reality beyond hype and fear. We chose compassion over and over. We show up to create another reality beyond the divisiveness of racism, sexism, classism, anti semitism. We look outside our individual socio-economic, racial, political, cultural bubbles to understand those we disagree with and those who we have been conditioned to see as “other”. We have the courage to build bridges daily.
We continue to reflect and improve ourselves and how we interact in the world. Svadhyaya – Self study, Sva means “self’ adhyaya means “inquiry” or “examination” This is the 4th Niyama (Niyamas are one of 8 limbs of yoga) .
We heal our emotional wounds. Often, especially in times of turmoil, we forget to go to the stillness and listen, to feel, to let our broken hearts weep, to grieve our losses. Personally sometimes…. I felt so domesticated, so numb, so stoic, so inexpressive, yet, now I am learning to tap into those wounded places and give them voice. I have been finding where the old wounds live in my body and discovering ways to move/ wash/ breath them out. Doing this work is not pretty, calm or subtle, it is powerful, and can be fierce and messy, but it does not mean your hysterical or insane, you are just alive!
Here are some article links which I have chosen for you, who want to delve further, ( this is also recommended reading for those of you attending the Women’s Healing Yoga Journey on February 18th).
I am writing from my own study and understanding of first two limbs of the Eight limbs of Yoga, Yama and Niyama. This is an introduction. Further study of the Yoga Sutras is advised for continued learning.
It is important when practicing these restraints and disciplines to be kind and non-judgemental of yourself and your progress.
These are not things generally mastered, one by one, these are similar to lamp posts to guide your way at night or similar to a compass for your journeys. Yet, sometimes lessons will come from wandering off course and in the dark.
They are not mastered in any order, but studied and contemplated frequently. These are ideals that speak to our highest self, but we are here as humans and will likely fall short, maybe even frequently. It is better to have this moral compass, even if we forget to use it, we can learn from wanderings, learn from our errors… and then study them again with new insight. Mindful progress over time and progress is certain.
First consider all Eight limbs (in the usual presented order)- not as steps, for it is best to think of them as 8 spokes of a wheel.
The 5 Yamas (Universal Morality) disciplines or self restraints that are primarily concerned with the world, and our interaction with it, in our day to day life.
1. Ahimsa – Compassion for all living things Ahimsa implies that in every situation we should adopt a compassionate attitude and do no harm.
2. Satya – Commitment to Truthfulness
Satya means “to speak the truth,” and is based on the understanding that honest communication and action form the bedrock of any healthy relationship, community, or government. Asking yourself before speaking, is it true? is it kind? is it necessary?
3. Asteya – Non-stealing
Take nothing that does not belong to you. The practice of asteya implies not taking anything that has not been freely given. This includes fostering a consciousness of how we ask for others’ time, for example demanding another’s attention when not freely given is, in effect, stealing.
4. Brahmacharya – Sense control
Brahmacharya is abstinence, particularly in relationship to sexual activity. Brahmacharya suggests that we should form relationships that foster our understanding of the highest truths. It does not necessarily imply celibacy. It means responsible behavior, that we use our sexual energy to regenerate our connection to our spiritual self. It also means that we don’t use this energy in any way that might harm others.
5. Aparigraha – Neutralizing the desire to acquire and hoard wealth
Aparigraha means to take only what is necessary, and not to take advantage of or act with greed. Aparigraha also implies letting go of our attachments to things and an understanding that impermanence and change are the only constants.
The 5 Niyama (Personal Observances) The second limb usually refers to self discipline and also with our actions towards others in our day to day life.
1. Sauca – Purity
Sauca is purity and cleanliness, outer cleanliness, daily washing etc, and Inner cleanliness for healthy, functioning of our bodily organs and also the clarity of our mind. Practicing asanas and pranayama are means for inner cleanliness. Asanas tone the body and removes toxins while pranayama cleanses our lungs, oxygenates our blood and purifies our nerves. Most important is t cleansing of the mind of toxic emotions – hatred, anger, lust, greed, delusion and pride.
2. Santosa – ContentmentSantosa is modesty and being content with what we have. To be at peace within and content with one’s lifestyle, finding contentment even while experiencing life’s difficulties then life becomes a process of growth through all circumstances. We begin to accept that there is a purpose for everything – yoga calls it karma – and we cultivate contentment to accept what life sends us and flow with it.
3. Tapas – Disciplined use of our energy
Tapas refers to the activity of awareness and control of the body’s energy. Literally it means to heat the body and, by so doing, to cleanse it. This is the understanding that we can direct our energy to engage life and achieve the ultimate goal of union with the Divine. Tapas helps us “burn up” the desires that stand in our way of union. Other forms of tapas are paying attention to what we eat, to body posture, , eating habits, and breathing patterns.
4. Svadhyaya – Self studysvadhyaya. Sva means “self’ adhyaya means “inquiry” or “examination”. All activities which cultivate self-reflective consciousness can be considered svadhyaya. It means to intentionally find self-awareness , even to the point of welcoming and accepting our limitations. Learning to be centered and non-reactive to the dualities, and to dispel self-destructive tendencies.
5. Isvarapranidhana – Celebration , devotion to the Spiritual
Isvarapranidhana is contemplation on God (Isvara) It is the recognition that the spiritual is everywhere and through our deepening awareness we can attune ourselves with our role as part of the Creator. The practice requires that we make time, each day, to recognize that there is some omnipresent force larger than ourselves that is guiding and moving the the universe. this might be meditation, prayer ,study or service.
2016, this too, shall pass. Whew!
Maybe this crazy time is meant to awaken us to new ways of being.
The darkest is right before the dawn.
Let’s be the dawning.
~~~~ Some ideas for creating deeper inner peace ~~~~~~~~~~~
~ Awake with a prayer or sense of gratitude for another day. Look at the sunrise or anything beautiful for a few moments before starting your day.
~ Be receptive, allowing, and curious. Be willing to forgo your schedule. Try setting this as an intention before getting out of bed; see it in your mind’s eye! Be ready for surprises; keep open to the freedom of the unknown. Change is the only constant.
~ Walk in the great outdoors – with curiosity and wonder! Walk tall, without fear into whatever arises.
~ A daily spiritual practice ~ You do have time! Try setting your phone timer for 2-3 minutes and focus on your breath, slowing it and deepening it, receiving nourishing oxygen from the Universe on your inhales, and Letting go of tension on your exhales. When you’re done, notice how you feel. Do it daily. This is meditation, one of the 8 limbs of yoga! ~ Spiritual practices are nourishment, elevating your vibration to help you have power to react creatively and constructively to what comes up in life.
~ Stay in the moment- Now is where life happens. The present is our point of power. To live in the moment is so fulfilling. This is liberation. No matter what is going on outside of you, open up to the possibility of experiencing freedom in this moment.
~ Lift your energy in a private session with me! We will discuss what is up for you and find new tools that support your moving forward. I offer yoga including breath work & adjustments, reiki, or a healing session using all of these.
Whole-hearted thank you for the support and co-creation this past year. I look forward to evolving with you in 2017!
Love, Love, Love Christina