What is meditation to you?

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A dear friend is just beginning her Yoga journey and she asked a question about meditation. She wondered if listening to music could be meditation. It’s a great question. Don’t we all wondered at the beginning of our journey how the hell we are ever going to be able to ‘sit here’ in meditation. The mind wanders away, off to ‘God knows where’ and you can actually feel your eyes looking around (even with closed eye lids) and you desperately want to tap your fingers or wiggle your toes, it’s all you can think about! OK maybe that was me, but you get my point. Meditation is hard! But I also believe that it doesn’t have to be that way.

Meditation comes in many forms.

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We always picture it as a guru sitting in lotus, fingers in a mudra, being completely still and totally quiet – Well that’s one way.

Dance (asana practice) is meditative, singing (mantra), breathing (pranayama), walking a labyrinth. All can have meditation like results – You have to ask yourself “what is meditation”. Meditation is the practice of ‘stilling’ the mind, allowing the mind a deep, quiet space where nothing distracts us. Meditation is about relaxing, but relaxing so that you can hear what is being said; To you, from within you. Pretty powerful stuff.

Swami Rama says….” In meditation, the mind is clear, relaxed, and inwardly focused. When you meditate, you are fully awake and alert, but your mind is not focused on the external world or on the events taking place around you. Meditation requires an inner state that is still and one-pointed so that the mind becomes silent. When the mind is silent and no longer distracts you, meditation deepens.”……. I believe that we can be ‘doing’ and still be in a meditative practice. If we are singing, dancing, ect ect and that is our single focus, the only focus of our mind, is it not then an inward focus? Are we not fully engaged and alert to that one thing we are doing, not focused on the outside world? Well then that is a kind of meditation. And in our world we find it very difficult to completely quiet the mind, at least when we are beginning a meditation practice. So these other ways to practice meditation are a good beginning, the beginning of learning to cultivate stillness.

What is meditation to you?

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Om Shanti

 

Cheryl

Monday Haiku May 12 2014

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I guess I need a new category – Monday Haiku – since I can’t seem to get any writing done on Sundays any more.

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Honeysuckle Haiku

 
A gentle spring night
Sweet smell of honey suckle
I walk with my dog
 
Fresh cut spring grasses
The wild roses in bloom
My dog walks with me
 
Still evening air wafts
Scents only summer can bring
We walk together
 
~C~
 
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5 Poses to Do Every Day

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Sthira Sukham Asanam     Patanjali  Yoga Sutra 2.46  

5 Poses to do Every Day!

Oh come on, it wont take you that long.
I know it’s hard to schedule 90 minutes in your day for a yoga class, trust me I know! But we all have 10 minutes for a few yogic things to do at home and remember your home practice doesn’t have to be a complicated 90 min Hot class.

Just roll out your mat & spend a few minute’s in each pose listed, focus on your breathing, on being comfortable in the pose & remember try to feel a sense of freedom in the pose. Don’t get caught up in how it looks, but instead bring your awareness to how it feels. The important thing is to move and articulate the spine in all directions allowing for energy movement and to help with back pain & stiffness. Remember our teaching of Sthira (stability) & Sukha (ease, freedom). Take time in each pose to notice where is the balance between being grounded and stable (Sthira) and being free, physically and mentally?

1st pose is Mountain (Tadasana) –Mountain pose is about taking the time to ‘come to your mat’, in the physical sense as well as a mental & emotional sense. Stand in Mountain pose and turn your attention in. Start to make a connection with your breath and just focus on the quality of your breathing. Tadasana is about rooting and grounding your practice with your intention for coming to the mat. This is the time to reflect on your body (how do you feel, how much energy do you have & what does your body need). Draw energy up from the ground into your feet (Sthira), feel that relaxed energy filling your core body (Sukha). Take 5 breaths.

2nd Pose Forward Fold – Forward Fold from an anatomical perspective is about folding from the hips, stretching your hamstrings and lengthening your low back. It’s always a good thing to relax your back body, but your mind and emotions benefit too. A forward Fold relaxes the mind, soothes the central nervous system and calms the senses. While in your Forward Fold look for the Sukha & the Sthira. Where do you find stability and freedom?

3rd is modified crescent lunge – Why modified instead of full crescent lunge? Because most of us will be doing this sequence either first thing in the morning or right after we get home from work, so we are dealing with cold, tight hip flexors. Although if you want to do the full version all the same principles apply. Raise your arms only after you have drawn up the front body, being careful not to thrust the ribs forward, but rolling the body up one vertebra at a time. Play with shifting the Sthira between the Left foot in front and the Right knee behind, find a balance between those 2 points of contact with the mat. The Sukha in the pose might be in maintaining a calm easiness in the arms overhead, so relax those shoulders. Repeat on the other side.

4th is Twists seated or supine – If you aren’t comfortable (sukha) in seated twists please lay on your back for supine twists. Sitting in Sukhasana (simple crossed legged position) Inhale drawing the arms over head lengthening the body then rotate to the right and bring the arms down. Stay for 5 breaths and come to the center and repeat on the other side. It really is that simple. If laying on your back, draw your knees over your body on the inhale then exhale as you lower them to the right, keeping the left shoulder on the mat. Then repeat on the other side.

5 is Sphinx or Cobra  - Spinal extension (back bend) is an important thing to do every day. Most of us are desk jockeys or at least we sit a lot, so it is necessary to length out the front body. Maybe start with baby cobra and move with your breath. Inhale as you lift up (Sukha) and exhale as you lower down. Keep the hips, legs and feet connected to the mat (Sthira).

6 is savasana -  Yep, Savasana. Taking the time for stillness, even just a few minutes, each day is the most important thing we can do for ourselves. Corpse pose requires a stillness of mind as well as your body. It gives your body a chance to return to normal, helping you to reap the benefits of your practice. Corpse pose is the bridge between your practice time and the rest of your life. Take the time to cross that bridge and take the calm, restorative, energetic properties of your practice into the rest of your life.

 

Om Shanti

~C

My Favorite Rumi

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The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you. Don’t go back to sleep. You must ask for what you really want. Don’t go back to sleep. People are going back and forth across the doorsill where the two worlds touch. The door is round and open. Don’t go back to sleep.

I would love to kiss you. The price of kissing is your life. Now my loving is running toward my life shouting, What a bargain, let’s buy it.

Daylight, full of small dancing particles and the one great turning, our souls are dancing with you, without feet, they dance. Can you see them when I whisper in your ear?

 All day and night, music, a quiet, bright reedsong. If it fades, we fade.

~Jalaluddin Rumi

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~c

The Once Still Voice

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I had lunch with a dear friend recently and of course we were talking about books, reading, Star Trek, reading Star Trek books and writing. His son writes every day he said and I asked him why he wasn’t writing (as he used to write  many moons ago). He said he didn’t think his life was interesting enough to write about. “Au contraire” I said, or maybe I just punched him in arm and said ‘that s stupid’. He is articulate, incredibly well read, loves a good, meaty, juicy debate and mostly I think he needs to find his voice to make that connection to who he is, really is. I love this man and I know him……well. So all day I thought about his voice and where it had gone and then I read a lovely blog post from http://bornbyariver.wordpress.com/2012/08/06/what-i-have-forgotten/ about losing things on this journey we call Life, things that gave us joy and why we lose them.  And this morning I had a conversation with a client & friend (as most of my clients become) about her putting her self to the side while focusing on the life, wants and needs of others. So after a day of the universe trying to tell me something…trying to tell me to write about this…what ever this is. Here I sit typing madly and spewing out words feverishly then stopping and realizing “I can’t put that out there”  “What if someone actually reads it”? delete delete delete ...

Deep personal thoughts are not my thing. It isn’t that I don’t have them, trust me I do, but I simply can’t express them for the whole of humanity (or my friends and family) to read.

so maybe I will write about you today…no one would know it was you, or would they? Maybe I will just keep my thoughts of you private and only for my eyes. Sometimes when we’re together I hold back, even from just sitting close or laying my hand on yours. Like right now I am holding back writing the thoughts that I have good, bad, naughty or nice..Because too close for us is too close. Lines we can’t cross……

How do we lose it? This thing that brings us joy, that expression of who we are. Maybe it’s some form of art we no longer ‘do’ whether it’s writing or painting or even dancing.

spinning, swirling, swaying my body to the rhythm  of the music only I can hear….all in the confines of my kitchen. Singing along with the words that stream through my mind, complete with bouncing ball.

It must be some type of fear that keeps us from finding our self-expression, our expression of self. Fear of being laughed at? Perhaps.

it certainly is one of my fears, being ridiculed, embarrassed  As a child it seemed nothing I did was right, older sisters had either already done it, or had done it better. 

Fear of failure or of coming up short, of not having all the correct information.

like speaking up in a group only to be told that didn’t make sense or wasn’t correct.

How do we manage to get here, to this place of silence, of self-repression. I really do envy the writers who seem to be completely free to express everything.

Maybe I just don’t have anything to say ……….nah, nope that s not it.

~c~

Oh Shanti

Asana Practice

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“The Asana should be effortless. There should be no effort not only in the body but also in the mind. Absolute ease of relaxation is the sign of perfected Asana. The student should be in a most natural condition in which he is not conscious even of his breathing.”

Swami Krishnananda

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Yoga Asana.

What is it really? This Asana we do. Do we really know what it is, what it means to practice asana?

Obviously Yoga asana are the poses, the physical movements of yoga. What we all recognize as Yoga. Although Yoga Asana is only one part of yoga, one limb of a very diverse tree.

Pantajali, the author of the Yoga Sutras, didn’t say much about the Asana practice only a few things and that has led some to believe that it isn’t a very important part of yoga, or that it is less important than the other limbs. But it is all part of the same process. When we incorporate all the limbs of yoga into our practice, then we begin to cultivate more spiritual awareness.

In the sutras Pantajali  wrote of Asana;

2.46  Sthira Sukham Asanam

  • sthira (Steer-a)  / steady, stable, grounded
  • sukha (Sue-kahm) /With Ease, Spacious
  • asana (As-ana) / posture or pose (also means “to sit”)

Within this simple statement Patanjali provides the perfect guideline for asana practice: sthira sukham asanam or one should be steady and comfortable in asanas. To be more specific, sthira means stability & grounded while alert & active. And sukha means with ease or without suffering.

When we practice asana we are often taught where to feel the pose or how to feel the pose and if we are feeling the pose we must be doing to correctly…perfectly.

Unfortunately that isn’t really it…. It isn’t really about a right or wrong way to do a pose and it is never about perfection. That’s the western way of viewing an asana practice. That we should mimic the pose that our teacher does.  It’s like we exist outside the pose waiting for someone to tell us what to feel while we are inside the pose. That isn’t asana. But where does asana come from and why do we practice it.

Asana means ‘seat’ or ‘pose’ and it first appears in the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita (between 800 BCE-500 BCE). Both of these texts asana as meaning a ‘seat’ for meditation and rituals. And In the Yoga Sutras (about 300 CE), we find only three Sutras about asana. And it’s obvious that Patanjali views asana as a preparation for meditation.

Then around 500 CE Hatha Yoga comes on the scene and uses posture (asana) to promote a strong body and good health. The idea being that the body is a temple of the Divine and we must do our best to keep it healthy. Within the last 200 years we saw the development of asana as the main focus of almost all Western yoga practice. In his book, “Yoga Body-The Origins of Modern Posture Practice,” Mark Singleton looks at the history of asana and explains that most of the tradition of modern yoga is from the 19th and 20th centuries in India as a result of the influence of colonial British physical fitness and the rise of Indian nationalism.

Judith Hanson Lasater says “We stay with the practice of yoga asana because it is a powerful non-verbal expression of the sacred. And practicing and living the sacred part of life is often sadly lacking for many people in the West today.  The expression of this sacredness has to do with the nature of asana practice itself. No matter how many times one has practiced a certain asana, when it is practiced now it is absolutely new.”

“A powerful non-verbal expression of the sacred” The first time I read that I was like YES! That’s it! Asana has always been for me a meditative practice. Erich Schiffmann’s famous book ‘Moving into Stillness” is a wonderful book and I love it. But for me it has been more about ‘Moving with stillness’ and yes that sounds like an oxymoron I know, how can you be still if you are moving, but the stillness is on the inside. When I am moving in asana, my mind can’t be anywhere else, it has to be still, focused and quiet. And the stillness can be the pose itself. Being able to hold a pose in that steady, comfortable state gives you the opportunity to observe the feelings that come up. Do you feel anxious or uncomfortable and why.

So in our modern practice we try to combine both the ancient & the modern ideas of asana, of being
steady and Comfortable. This is the principle of balance. We seek to harmonize strength and steadiness with comfort and ease.

When we are doing asana remember the yamas & niyamas. Consider Ahimsa (do no harm), I talk about this all the time in classes. Never move into physical pain or practice asana in a way that disturbs our mind or spirit. If you are doing something that physically hurts are you honoring that expression of the scared?
Practicing asana from a place of Satya (truth) means being honest about where we are in the pose and why. Rather than thinking about how it should look, we need to discover our own yoga, not the yoga coming from the teacher or from other students or from the cover of a magazine.
We should practice asana with tapas (heat and intensity), svadhyaya (study of the Self) and Isvara pranidhanani (devotion). These are the concepts help us to forge our asana practice in the way that you would forge steel, to become strong and resilient.

So in our asana practice, it’s important to focus not just on what our body is doing, but on how we’re doing it. Come into the pose(s) and hold them long enough to become steady and use the feeling of comfort as a guide and know that steadiness (sthira) and comfort (sukha) have more value that moving so fast that you become lost in the routine and your goal is to simply  finish X number of poses.

Also watch your breath. Observe it. It can be the best indicator of how you are feeling in a pose. It too should be Sthira, and Sukha. Using the Ujjayi breath is calming to the mind and can provide focus, helping to create that calm, steady state that is meditation.

Scan your body for any tension, holding a pose doesn’t and shouldn’t create tension, such as clenched jaws and scrunched toes. Try to achieve that state of relaxation with alertness and if we are straining and gritting our teeth through a yoga class, there is no ease.

I could write all day about asana and still not speak so eloquently about the subject as Mr. Iyengar does in one small paragraph.

“The body is the temple of the soul. It can truly become so if it is kept healthy, clean and pure through the practice of asana. Asanas act as the bridges to unite the body with the mind and the mind with the soul.
“Patanjali says that when an asana is correctly performed, the dualities between body and mind, mind and soul, have to vanish. This is known as repose in the pose, reflection in action. When the asanas are performed in this way, the body cells, which have their own memories and intelligence are kept healthy. When the health of the cells is maintained through the precise practice of asanas, the physiological body becomes healthy and the mind is brought closer to the soul. This is the effect of the asanas. They should be performed in such a way as to lead the mind from attachment to the body towards the light of the soul so that the practitioner can dwell in the abode of the soul.”

B.K.S. Iyengar

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Om Shanti

 

Cheryl