We are on our spiritual journey from the moment we first consider that our experiences in life can be influenced by personal action. Moving from a passive effect to an active cause within our own mind, body and circumstances is the essence of yogic responsibility. It is only a matter of time and consistent, productive action that our deepest aspirations will fulfill our true needs; this is a surety.
Complexity can be a hindrance to inner power and the mind is an expert at generating unending extrapolations of thought. We, the self must buffer our own mind from it self. We must become our own sheep dog, returning stray considerations back to the reality of the moment.
In Yoga the ‘heat’, or tapas of concentration is considered essential to generating influential thoughts and feelings. This heat proves impossible so long as mental tension acts to diffuse our capacity for one-pointed attention. The process of recovering the power of concentration cannot be forced or rushed. It must be allowed to emerge naturally through simple meditation practices.
One particularly effective method for the cultivation of mental empowerment is Trataka or single point gazing. The eyes are by far the most dominating of the senses. We can use this to our advantage by giving the eyes an object that is attractive, uplifting and absorbing. Mesmerize the eyes and the fragmented mind is soon to follow.
Trataka basic technique:
– Light a candle on a table in a room with no draft. The candle should be arms length away and eye level. The flame should be still.
– Close the eyes and relax the whole body, especially the eyes.
– Be aware of body steadiness for a few minutes. Keep the body absolutely still throughout the practice.
– Open the eyes and gaze steadily at the flame.
– Try not to blink or move the eyeballs in any way.
– Do not strain as this will cause tension and the eyes will flicker.
– The awareness should be so completely centered on the flame that body awareness is lost.
– If the mind begins to wander, gently bring it back to the practice.
– After a minute or two, when the eyes become tired or begin to water, close them gently.
– Gaze at the after-image of the flame in the space in front of the closed eyes. If the image moves up or down, or from side to side, observe it and try to stabilize it.
– When the image can no longer be retained, gently open the eyes and gaze at the flame once more.
– Repeat the procedure for external gazing.
– Close the eyes once more and gaze at the inner image.
– Continue in this way 3 or 4 times.
*These instructions drawn from the work of Swami Satyananda Saraswati.
The hounds of winter are howling in the wind, telling us for certain that the cold season is upon us. Taking these 3 steps will help bring comfort, immunity, and happiness in the long months to follow.
• Warm up to warm drinking water. Warm water calms the mind and greatly assists digestion. Cold water is often not appealing to people in colder months. This and the lower humidity that winter brings often leads to dehydration.
• Don the long john and remember how it feels to relax. Even when wearing a warm coat, failing to keep our lower extremities warm in colder months can lead to low-grade anxiety, disassociation and lowered immune response.
• Shred the ginger and feel alive! Ginger is one of nature’s super foods. An anti cancer, anti arthritic, immune stimulator it is more then just an effective way of warming you up on a cold day. Studies have shown ginger brings relief to a wide variety of conditions including menstrual pain, migraines, liver damage and high blood pressure.
Breath is the vehicle for consciousness within the human body. What is consciousness in this context? It is the act of registry. The spark that registers and experiences the moment in a lucid and conscious way. This spark is carried within the breath.
It is a logical next step to consider what effect the quality of our breathing has on our consciousness. It has a profound effect most definitely. When you breath is quick and shallow, your experience of the moment becomes limited. The richness and profundity that is natural to the human is lost. As we expand and lengthen the breath, we encourage the consciousness to stretch out and function in its deeper more subtle capacities. Synchronizing the breadth with movements of the body directs or shuttles the consciousness into the body itself.
A view of the lush canopy from one of my favourite perches. Nestled within the tress is one of my favourite places to breath!
Over time and practice we will gain a full and complete experience of our mind within our body. This brings euphoria, ability, and great peace; the peace that only comes from discovering mastering and expressing our deeper nature. Tantra provides enumerable technics for every person in any situation. In its truest sense, Tantra is a global culture with practitioners arising from every community across the globe. Tantra has emerged from the desire for human beings to live as a synchronized, distinguished and exceptional whole.
Stage 1: There are many breathing technics. In the beginning the aspirant should focus their efforts in short bursts limiting there seated practice to 5-10 minutes. After the body is settled into some degree of stillness our attention should move to witnessing the current spontaneous respiration pattern. Do not rush through this activity. For observing the current breath cycle can be healing in and of it self.
Stage 2: Once the respiration is observed for some time we can then move to deepen the breath cycles. Lengthening both the inhalation and exhalation.
Our mind floats in a space of rational and relative hypothesis. Without solid markers of measurement for our bodily cycles we often languish in perpetual and static unconsciousness. Therefore counting the duration of our breathing is the easiest way to bring rapid focus and spontaneous deepening within our respiration.
Make it a goal at this point to breath in for a count of 5 and out for a count of 5. If this proves easeful, increase the count to inhaling for a count of 10 and out for a count of 10. Once you have arrived at a count of 10 for the inhale stay at 10 and only increase your length of exhalation from this point onwards. Work to increase the exhalation to the count of 20.
If it is only possible for you to inhale for example a count of 7 and out for a count of 8 then continue with the goal of 10 and 10 yet stay within your current limits. We are stretching subtle muscles both physically and psychically. This cultivation must occur gradually and within the spirit of acceptance and mature aspiration.
In an age of shock and awe it is tempting to lose the application of accessible, progressive activity. Invest 10 minutes of your day and don’t let the din of this crazy circus take your breath away.
The mer-person is seen throughout the worlds mysticism and iconography,stirring the depths of our collective imagination. (Inuit sculpture, Winnipeg Art Gallery)
For years now I have been sustaining a lifestyle that has all the descriptions of a fairytale. With eyes that see only the trial there is enough evidence to prove the contrary, yet what was once a deeply internal feeling has now spread to even my outermost life experiences.
Often we expect our awakening to be a fulfillment of our foolish desires and the realization of half-baked dreams. We use our time for prayer as a petition to the greater forces to aid us in these limited endeavours. We lack the vision to see that the true nature of yogic unfoldment is a process of humbling, of reorienting our position in life along natural and deeply innate lines.
We know the life of work. We apply ourselves most days to the tasks of investment. The common factor in most frustration is not effort it is direction. To which world are we primarily applying our investment of action, the inner or the outer?
The inner world of our consciousness needs much attention if we are to counterbalance the effect of years of worldly absorption. It is the misplacement of our inner resources that has created such dimly lit establishments in the world around us.
We need not blame the light bulb for a deficit in the electrical supply. Undiscriminating and easily diffused our vitality is available for the liberating; it is willing to be reassigned. We can connect the wires between physical vitality and mental energy, reclaiming the riches of our personal life. A personal life experienced in the midst of the world.
In Yoga, Matsya is the initial glimmer of individual consciousness arising from the sea of our subconscious mind. It is the force that acts to facilitate our continual progression from unconsciousness to consciousness.
Technic: The connection between our inner and outer -world is located in the depths of our consciousness, at the lower edge of the conscious mind were it meets our subconscious awareness.
Yoga Nidra (Yoga Sleep), a technic codified by the great tantric Swami Satyanada gives us the opportunity to travel to the depths of mind while remaining awake. In the words of Swami Satyananda “Yoga Nidra is a method of inducing physical and nervous tranquility, ridding the mind of chronic tension, and induces inner knowledge and meditation.”
This is a complete Yoga Nidra in its basic form. More developed Yoga Nidra’s will follow in the coming months.
Likened to this peacock in which I came upon on a random front lawn, my vision is that we all become regional stars.
We all shine around the fire at night with our beloved tribal families. To shine from all places in all directions gives us a way forward.
No longer will we farm out our effort or our greatness! We will entertain, inspire awe within and receive from our own surroundings as recreation and subsistance!
This is a question that came to me recently. It addresses one of the common, on-going deliberations that the modern yoga practitioner contends with.
Question: How important it is to do our practice 2-3 hours after eating? Does this apply to meditation also?
Answer: Yoga postures and breathing practices are, in general, best done with little or no food in the stomach. When the body is free of its digestive responsibilities, the energies of the body are allowed to be influenced as they could by the practices. Spiritual effects are easily trumped by physical ones. When the body is busy processing food it is effectively off the market to the subtle realms and can’t come up and out to play.
Editors note: (When eating fruit one can safely wait only 30 minutes before commencing practice.)
There are many practices you can do after you eat that will clarify your energy and righten your perspective just remember to avoid deep bending and most especially direct compression of the abdomen.
Meditation can be done at any time. Before sunrise, after sunset. midday and midnight are traditional moments of the day to stop and move within. Food draws the awareness to the physical realms and can limit the depth of our contemplation. Saying this if you are low blood sugared or very hungry you can be apt to be distracted by your cravings.
Editors note: (Swami Sivananda says that a glass of juice. milk, coffee or tea can be taken if needed with no detriment to the practice and in some cases it is best to do so as it may allow someone to be present in a way they might otherwise not)
There is an old saying that a yogic aspirant eats twice a day while a yogi eats only once. In this modern age our digestive system and lifestyle my lead us to eat more often, and we should not shy away from our practice if it bends the traditional rules. We must only use our discernment. Eat lightly of fresh foods when you are wanting more access to your soul. Be a scientist and experiment with your own actions. The effects of these personal experiments will be the most motivating way to mold your daily schedule.
There is a place in my mind that rests in my chest. When this space in my chest is open I feel larger than life. I feel in a position of abundance and generosity. Yes, certain conditions do open the heart more naturally than others but we can not rely unduly on outside circumstances to open our heart. It is the design and destiny of the human heart to live sustained between circumstance and effort.
We can generate an expanded heart. We can conjure grand moods and noble impulses in the midst of even the most stressful of situations. We can, when we take it upon our selves to perform yogic practices. Here are just a few. Experiment ’till your hearts content!
1) Clear the way we have a heart coming through! In order to feel the expansiveness that we seek we will have to balance both our introversion and extroversion. We will have to open the body, with an emphasis on the chest so as to allow the mind some breathing space to change. This simple movement will accomplish both these ends and improve your posture to boot!
Stand and spread the legs apart. Clasp the hands behind you, interlacing the fingers. Bend forward on the exhale while bringing your arms away from the back. Inhale coming up, tilt the head backwards, all the while keeping arms extended away from the back. Be gentle with your shoulders they can be injured if you force them to move unduly. If opening the hands away from you proves difficult then keep the palms together and do not rotate the hands while you perform the movement. Perform 10 rounds.
2) On a hope and a prayer I will rise! A gesture you see the world over, one that brings peace and feelings of safety to even an onlooker: the prayer positon. Assume a comfortable and stable position. Raise the hands infront of the chest with the palms and fingers touching. Attempt to feel a circuit of energy arrise between the hands, the arms and the heart region. Hold your concern in the mind and imagine placing it in the heart space, letting go of it. Feel the mood created by the prayer position fill your attention once again. If done on a regular basses this practice can invoke feelings of tolerance, empathy and unconditional love not to mention strong shoulders and chest.
3) Heart opening is Yummy! Traditionally in yoga there is a sound for each of the major centres of the body. For the region of the heart the sound is Yam. Sit in a comfortable upright positon. Place your hands in the prayer position already described in this article. Turn your attention to the heart region. Sound Yam (pronounced yum) in groupings of 7. Breath deeply between each round.
4) Your heart is a balloon and your love is the wind, expand and fill at will! We will now combine the two previous technics with a visualisation. Again sit in a comfortable upright positon. Place your hands in the prayer position. Turn your attention to the heart region and see it as a balloon. Inhale into the balloon, watch it expand, becoming slightly larger. Exhale and sound Yam repeatedly in your mind. Continue this process for as long as you have time available. With each round watch the heart expand in size. The space in the heart continues to grow with each breath. Recommended time of practice- 5 to 15 minutes.
So you are in a crisis. You feel weak, angry and overwhelmed. What do you do when the last thing you feel compelled to be is proactive? Here is a quick list of the simple activities that anyone can do to change their mindset fast.
1) Wash your feet. The emotional shift out of loathsomeness that occurs with this simple action can be miraculous. Start by washing with warm water for it is most relaxing but at a later date experiment with varying temperatures. Cold water can be awakening if you are in the downward pull of lethargy.
2) Perform Child’s Pose. Child’s Pose, according to Paramahamsa Satyananda, is the most effective yogic posture for releasing anger fast. Within a few minutes you can feel a break in the relentless fire that drives most crisis. Take special note to feel the release of your reactions as reflected in the slowing and deepening of your breath. (Instructions for Child’s Pose are included at the end of this article.)
3) Wrap your roots. If you are experiencing fear, put on some long underwear and socks. Keeping your legs and feet warm is like keeping your roots grounded in the earth. If our lower extremities grow cold while in the midst of a crises we are apt to produce more thoughts of a worried nature. Even a few degrees more warmth given to the lower half of your body can provide a surprising amount of relief to the confusion, and panic that accompanies most difficulties. (Note- For some, more heat may exacerbate an overheated mind.)
4) Plug your ears and hum like a bee. In yoga this action is called Bhramari Pranayama. More effective then sticking your head in the sand, this activity provides you with the “moment out of time” that is so wanted when we are overwhelmed and lossing control. It is said that the pure heart has the sound of a thousand bees buzzing. Once enveloped in this space we have access to our breakthrough potential and intuitive knowledge that waits just beyond our anxiety. (Instructions for Bhramari Pranayama are included at the end of this article.)
5) Breath like Darth Vader. ‘Use the throat Luke. Let it guide your prana.’ Breathing lower in the throat by contracting the glottis (wikipedia.org/wiki/Glottis) manually lowers blood pressure whilst warming the breath. Ujjayi breathing, as it is called in yoga, produces in Satyananda’s words “a profoundly relaxing effect at the psychic level.” Ujjayi literally means “the breath that gives us freedom from bondage.” Sit and watch yourself breath in this fashion for some minutes and you will see for yourself. The power that your stress is throwing away will be drawn back into your self, where you can utilize it to move forward with truthful confidence.
When dealing with an SOS, we should survey the foundational actions of the previous days. Have we slept, eaten enough fats and proteins, shared company with loved ones or spent time in nature enough to maintain our homeostasis? Most distress and strife, though fertile ground for lofty theorizing, is the effect of an imbalance in our personal daily activities.
The first video. Some tantric tools to turn crises into peace.
It is still startling to me the intensity of my ignorance when I am over-due to practice the yoga. It is like a 360° blindspot which engulfs me as a fog of fatalistic pessimism. These dull feelings, when contained by spiritual effort, will catch fire like dry tinder and fuel the spirit through our long dark nights. Do not believe the “forever” feelings of evening. The morning will soon come.
Paramahamsa Satyananda points out that when standing at the mouth of a cave the interior appears dark. It takes time for our eyes to adjust. This holds true for our inner sight. From my experience, the inner space is rich with jewels and well worth the wait and consistency of action.
Tantra is a science with method and as such has a pro forma; methodical ways to allow travel into the ever deepening regions of the self. These steps when performed in sequence give reliable consistent results. Do not take the responsibility for invoking the lofty goals of inner peace and realisation by your will alone. In humility and trust, merely perform the instructions that are given. The mind, worked by the technology of yoga will produce results you can not currently anticipate.
If you are not performing some type of premeditative exercises there is a good chance you are largely meditating upon your tension. Over thinking, over extending our limits, coupled with pent up unexpressed personal expresion is most likely what people need to tend to before they can venture inward.
Make a time in your schedule each day and divide this time into 4. For the first quarter, perform simple foot washing, teeth cleaning and cold water head rinsing if possible. Follow this with some pre-meditative exercises. A simple seated forward bend for 5 minutes followed by rotating every set of joints (starting with the toes) is a highly effective way of achieving this wakeful introversion.
For the second and third quarters, perform the meditative technique(s) you are planning. Make special efforts not to rush through the initial settling in phase of the meditation. Much power and richness within meditation is lost due to a body that has not been fully settled into stillness and an awareness that has not been taken through each part of the body.
The last fourth of your practice is allocated to reflective reclining. A period when we are out of the practice of a specific technique yet the body remains quite still. Let yourself gaze upon the inner world that you have awoken to during the practice. This is a time to deeply experience self in the moment. It is not recommended to meet another persons eyes following meditation. Instead, register the rich detail of our inner and outer environment, surveying the mind as it re-emerges into daily life. Thoughts of a Persians tent come to mind for this last phase of meditation; fully relaxed, content and slowly drinking from the rich sensations that are arising from deep within.
In time, the heightened experience of meditation will be carried into the rest of our lives as an expanded state of sustained liberation. It will happen. Our dawn, complete with its warmth, light and constant creativity will be birthed from the womb of our darkened interior. To this there is no doubt.
The following link is a recording of me reciting the first body awareness exercise. It is a meditation in its own right or can be used in conjunction with other technics. It can not be classified as either beginner or advanced for it is beyond these classifications. It is fundamental.
Yoga is a time to cultivate the states you wish to live tomorrow by deeply enacting them today. Mimicry is one of the 64 divine arts emanating from Saraswati, the goddess of art and culture in the hindu pantheon . It is considered sacred business in the development of the human experience. The whole science of yoga is based on the principle of assuming the gestures of healthy and dynamic living until there is no difference between your postured state and that of your spontaneous state. In the constant beginnings of this life, year after year, the motto of yoga could be “Fake it until you make it!”
When beginning a new pattern of behaviour the first two experiences many of us face are that of resistance and lethargy. We must realize that the thoughts and feelings we have today are based on yesterdays actions and are no more personal than how we feel physically as a result of eating. Yoga is an alchemical process and as such we can expect base elements to be present in our attitude at the beginning.
Be like an awoken mother when dealing with your self and act with an air of detachment, perspective and long term vision. A gentle command is paramount when dealing with the mind. No undue harshness is to be transmitted as this may awaken fear and resistance from the ego.
Your need for space is far greater than your need for more activities in life. Treat time spent in your yoga efforts as a time to listen, feel and follow instruction. There is a great nourishment in submitting to direction. It is a time when we can truly let go.
If at present you can not imagine committing to a formal practice then there are many yogic activities that can be done as a refinement to what you are already doing throughout the day. Others can be done in the midst of your normal routine, adding a great joy to the mundane without adding undue pressure to your schedule.
Many of the great yogis performed much of their yoga inside themselves while taking part in a flurry of activity. Paramahamsa Satyananda has said that the majority of the effectiveness of yoga is the mental attitude one applies to it. And that there is no greater vehicle for positive intention then the Sankulpa, the resolution made at the beginning and at the end of yoga. Satyananda says “Anything in life can fail you but not the Sankulpa. It is like a seed sown in the depths of your consciousness”.
Here is an example of some of the actions we can take within the first waking moments of 2012. Every Yogic action we perform will bring momentum to our New Years resolutions.
Upon waking, before the endless stream of thoughts wash over you, recite your Sankulpa with feeling for a few moments. Let it sink in and be felt through your whole being. Next, to aid in motility while stretching the muscles of the back after the long hours of sleep, perform Pawanmuktasana or Wind Releasing pose while lying in bed. This practice can rapidly remove lethargy from the body, inducing wakefulness and a readiness to rise from slumber. It can also be a god send to those suffering from constipation. Lie down. Bend the right knee and bring the thigh to the chest.Interlock the fingers and clasp the hands on the shin just below the right knee. Inhale deeply, filling the lungs. Hold the breath and raise the head and shoulders off the ground and attempt to kiss the knee. Hold for a few seconds while retaining breath and mentally counting. Exhale, lower head and leg and repeat with the left leg and then both legs together. Perform 2-3 rounds of this.
Now, here is a way to start the day off on the right foot . Check your nasal dominance, in other words check which nostril is open. Now which ever nostril is open stand up on that foot for 3 breaths This is an aspect of swara yoga and aids in balancing the polarities of introversion and extroversion.
Once standing there are three movements we can do that will awaken the spine in all of its ranges of motion. First, stand and spread the legs apart. Clasp the hands behind you, interlacing the fingers. Bend forward on the exhale while bringing your arms away from the back. Inhale coming up, tilt the head backwards, all the while keeping arms extended away from the back. Repeat 10 times.
Second, keeping the legs separated, interlocking the hands above the head. Exhale while stretching to the right , keeping your arms extended. On the inhale raise your body to the centre and repeat on the left side. Repeat 10 times.
Third, a dynamic twist. Start in same standing position. Inhale. Exhale and twist the body to the right while swinging the arms, clasping your right shoulder with your left hand. The right right hand extends behind to the small of your back, your arms acting like pendulums, keeping them as relaxed as possible. Now twist to the left. The movement should be fluid with little break between the right and the left twist. Repeat 10 times.