Sunday, 24 March 2019

Part One: The Inhale

The breath is the bridge between the mind and body. If our mind is racing, our breath is usually short and shallow.  If our mind is relaxed, our breath is usually slow and more into the belly.  By working with the breath, we can change the mind state.

I want to focus on looking at the meaning of the inhale in our lives and in another blog I will focus on the exhale.

When I think of the inhale, I think of the SO HUM mantra and meditation.  SO is said in the
 mind when inhaling and means 'That.' So when we inhale, we are inviting our attention to fully by on all that is permanent, which is divine, love, God, the infinite.  This mantra is the essence of the goal on the path of yoga, to realize 'I am the infinite'. The inhale invites us to go inward.

There are so many ways of using this amazing world around us, though impermanent, to help us find meanings for the inhalation. Looking at the sun, the inhalation might represent the sunrise, the beginning of moving from dark to light, moving into seeing with awareness, inviting the new day which is there for us to learn from, an experience giver.  

The changes of season.  In moving from the hibernation and pause of winter, spring is that 'breath of fresh air,' drawing in the changes that are bringing new life and renewal, movement.  This just made me think of one of the last scenes in the movie, "Gravity," when Sandra Bullock's character has reentered earth's gravity, plunging into the water and then after escaping her pod she surges up, breaking out of the water's surface with a full breath of renewal, desire to live, reborn.

The inhalation, when thinking of movement or activity, is the drawing in before the release of energy out.  In that moment, one can visualize the outcome desired with the movement to prep the body to move towards a goal.  I think of being out rock climbing.  When I'm about to move through a more challenging section, I breath in to create focus of where I want to go, then I exhale (usually more forcefully) with the action.  

So, inhalation can also be synonymous with focus and concentration (though for this to fully be realized, the exhale must also come).  The breath in draws us inward towards clarity before the action happens to realize the clarity. 

In this spring season, take a moment to fully be in the inhalation, drawing life inwards.  Notice what is going on when you draw the breath in more fully or forcefully and what analogy comes to you in the first half of the breath? Enjoy this gift of the inhalation.

Sunday, 17 March 2019

Reflections from my Meditation Facilitator Training Course

In this week back from India, going through so many delays with traveling back home, weather conditions, and jet lag, I've be surprised how I've been able to stay relatively more calm and even.  The past few weeks in India at the meditation course have been helpful in opening my eyes to a deeper level of yoga and the role meditation (and going inward) plays in steadying the mind. Here are three general reflections for myself from the time with my guru, Prasad Rangnekar:

1) The amount of value placed on thinking and ideas keeps the mind unsteady.

Our western culture places a lot of value on thoughts and ideas.  On one hand, this is what fuels the entrepreneurial spirit and has led the way to amazing innovations. On the other hand, it also has led to our avoidance of being able to be with emotions which keeps us stuck, devaluing intuition and being judgmental about experiences outside the world of thought.

For me, I am amazed at all the wonderful ideas that come from my much of the time, so quickly, and it can be very distracting.  When I sit down to be still and quiet, practice meditation, my mind takes this as, "Sweet!  We've got space and she's going to hear us!" It's off to the races.  Over the years I have gone from getting swept up with these story lines and before I know it I've lived months in my mind within 10-15 minutes to slowly accepting what my mind comes up with when my intention is to meditate isn't important. At all.

My practice at this point is having a zero tolerance to thoughts and ideas when I sit down to meditate, when I'm driving or doing activities that don't require specific thoughts, or when I'm focused on something specific.  Yep, that really is the majority of the time.  It's the practice of vairagya or detachment.

My mind's reaction to this is, "what if you miss something big!  An idea that could change the world?!"  Well, at this point, I firmly believe that it's not going to be a thought that changes my world, it will be the absence of thought.  My work towards self-transformation isn't external, so I'm not looking to make a ton of money or get rich quick or retire early.  It's internal and it's about finding peace within.  So, those thoughts really aren't going to do much for me.

Don't get me wrong, I still need to think to be in the world, do my work, enjoy life, it's just I'm working towards not placing value on them as they aren't permanent, so not worth getting attached to.  I've got my work cut out for me because I've spent a lot of time attaching to thoughts (many of them worries) and it's a hard habit to break.  But, I'm committed and looking forward to seeing what results from this zero tolerance practice.

2) I'm already safe and secure.

In the grand scheme of things, I've had it pretty good in this life.  I was born into a household that was financially secure with parents who loved me and wanted me.  My parents divorcing when I was in college was the first big loss in my life.  I didn't have an severe physical, emotional, or sexual trauma.

The thing is, I still struggle with feeling safe and secure.  My mind's tendency is towards worrying and trying to control life. These thought habits, over time, have taken their toll on my body.  The magnitude of the mind/ body system's specific role in keeping us safe is amazing to me.  There's really not a whole lot that separates us from other animals...unless we learn how to override the survival part of the brain.  The majority of the time I'm doing okay and I'm safe.  Yet, the mind keeps focusing on lack and looking for where I may not be safe rather than relaxing in the abundance of safety that I have.

I really was hoping I was "advanced" and had no muladhara (root) chakra issues, but the reality is otherwise.  And accepting this is also getting rid of a belief I've had that my 'success' as a yogi depends on where I'm at in rising up the chakras. Really, being a true yogi is accepting where I'm at right now and doing practices that meet me there.  It's so much more empowering and is actually less stressful!!  (I paused right then and noticed I was clenching my jaw...and now it's relaxed.  My thoughts for this blog post were coming to quickly and wanting to get it 'just right.' Ha)!

One of my new mantras is "I'm safe and secure" whenever I start to feel tension happening in my body along with some long exhalations. It relaxes me immediately.

3) Any negativity in my life is completely my doing.

I've been working with the phrase, "I'm 100% responsible for my life" since my first yoga teacher training in 2012.  It has helped me significantly in reducing blame towards others and situations so I can take responsibility and work on my own part in things.

There has been deepening in this from course.  I started to talk with my guru about some of the same things that have caused me stressed for years, which he's patiently listened to, and his response this time was, "why do you always complain about these things?"  He said a few more things after that I don't remember.  That word, 'complain,' really hit me hard.  My first response was, "I don't complain! That's not me!  You've got it all wrong!"  I knew my reaction to it meant there was definitely something there.

I sat with this for the rest of the course and then in coming home, I watched my reactions more closely to the people and situations I just struggle to let go of.  Guess what, it's all me.  It's all my perception, expectations, mood, and habits.  Here's one example:

I worked late one night, so in the morning I talked with my husband about making dinner, even pulled out a recipe and some ingredients for him.  I got home at 8pm and the oven was just finishing heating up to cook.  The side was made, but we didn't eat for another 30 minutes.  I felt anger and resentment boil up.  "He doesn't have good time management!  Doesn't he realize what a long day I had while he went skiing?  Why can't he think about me!"

Luckily, I've had enough practice to know to keep my mouth shut and question my reactions.  The expectations I uncovered was that dinner would be ready to eat right when I got home, he would feel sympathy for me that I worked while he had the day off to ski, and since I gave some directions, all would be done exactly how I would do it.  Ha!!!  Wow, those are some high expectations for perfection.

Instead, after calming down and getting to a more neutral mind state, I thanked him for making dinner, let go of getting to bed before 9pm, slowed down myself and took time to do the dishes without anger, but focusing on what I was grateful for with my husband, with the good dinner, and with my job.  I went to bed in a more peaceful place and I can now write about this with humor.

Yep, the negativity is all mine.  And I'!  Again, a no tolerance policy with negativity is how I plan to keep facing these moments to let go of them and so they keep happening less and less.

Friday, 8 March 2019

Meditation as a way of life

Many years ago, when I heard the word 'meditation' I would think of being able to sit still for hours with an empty mind in a state of bliss.  With this expectation I was doomed to come to the conclusion "I can't do this" and "there must be something wrong with me."  Working with my teacher, Prasad Rangnekar, I have changed this perception and with my practice have come to realize that meditation isn't just sitting still, it's a practice to use throughout my day.

In both Patajali's Yoga Sutras (YS) and the Bhagavad Gita (BG), understanding the practices described have helped me be more compassionate towards myself in my own meditation practice and let go of the 'shoulds' and expectations.  I enjoy going inward, being in silence, and becoming more still. Meditation is a process, not an end point, and it takes time.

In the Yoga Sutras (III-1), meditation is part of an eight-fold practice to rid limitations of the mind in order to self-transform and connect with the true Self.  The 'doing' part of meditation is called Dharana or single-minded focus/ concentration.  The purpose of the mind is to think, so the first task is to teach the mind how to stay focused on one thing for a period of time instead of the mind jumping around from past to future, from topic to topic.  This is the practice.  Doing this practice regularly (daily), slowly helps to focus the mind and other meditative states happen.  A good analogy is sleep.  We don't 'do' sleep, sleep happens.  The 'doing' of sleep are the tasks of preparation like cleaning the body, getting into sleep clothing, getting comfortable in bed, maybe doing some calming things...then we wake up as sleep eventually happened.

There are many ways to practice dharana, which both the YS (I-35 to I-40 and II-45) and BG state, with no emphasis on what is the 'best.'  It is more about doing the practice (sadhana) daily and sticking with one focus of concentration that works best for you.  Practice, practice, practice.

Chapter 6 of the BG is dedicated to the meditation practice which shows just how important for self-transformation meditation is and that it does work (and has for thousands of years).  I have been studying this chapter during my times of silence over the past few years, each time gaining something new and inspirational.  The discovery that every day life is the field for practice was an insight I had from one of these study and reflective periods.  I was aware that when I wasn't focused on something specific, like listening to one of my clients, focused on a task, involved in exercise, that my mind constantly bounced around.  One of my main practices for concentration has been japa or repetition of a mantra.  I use it constantly through out my day.  When I first wake up, when I'm in the shower, when I'm doing my sadhana, when I'm driving, when I'm bored, when I'm goes on and on.  Doing this has helped to calm and focus my mind throughout the day.

Throughout the BG, Krishna (the divine and teacher) shares over and over that the steadfast mind, the mind that remains equal in whatever happens or to whomever, and the mind that is under control creates peace and tranquility.  After reading this over and over, it finally dawned on me that what I had been doing with my japa practice was not only working on letting go of negative, untrue statements, but it was also a practice of dharana or concentration.  I was practicing meditation through the day.  It still makes me giddy to think that every time I bring my concentration back to a focus point, I'm helping my mind prepare for other stages of meditation.

One of my favorite practices of this comes when I'm feeling tired and don't want to complete a task.  Whenever this happens, it's a sign that I need to focus back on the task so it's done and them I'm free of it.  No need to remember to finish it later, one less thing to THINK about.  It's also a great practice for self-discipline.

The true transformational aspect of practicing meditation goes beyond the 30 minutes or so of sitting in silence. It's when practicing single-minded focus throughout the day to help settle the mind, where the power of meditation starts to unfold.  Make meditation a lifestyle habit!