Thursday, September 24, 2015

Finding and maintaining our natural essence

From our first breath, we are observing, experiencing, and learning.  Early on, we depend on outer beings to protect us and take care of our needs.  We are taught how to walk, talk, eat, behave socially, etc..  When we have reached the appropriate age, we usually leave our nests and search for our “true selves”, taking all of our handy tools and ideals with us.  The appropriate age may vary depending on how we are raised.  Some humans have to grow up very quickly learning survival on many levels.  Other humans are protected and nurtured from darkness allowing for a sheltered lifestyle.  No matter how we grow, we were conditioned to be like those that raised and educated us with our own natural essence.   Out of all the knowledge we are given, we weren't taught how to maintain our natural state of being.  Because of this, we take our thoughts way too seriously.  It does not matter if it is a past memory from childhood or a thought of a future event; It is not happening now.  When we get emotionally caught up in thought, we are trapped in the “illusion”.  This is suffering. 

 When I was a kid, my papa caught me talking to myself.  I blushed as he laughed and said “It’s ok to talk to yourself.  It is when you start answering yourself that you need to worry”.  20+ years later and three years of yoga under my belt, I had another moment of being caught talking to myself, but it wasn’t my papa that noticed.  It was me.  I noticed I was having a conversation with myself and I was answering myself as well.  That was an awakening moment for me, so I took my therapist’s advice and tried meditation.

What is meditation exactly? It is simple, but a practice.  Meditation is listening and observing yourself while sitting still.  Easy right?  Easy as it is for you to listen to others.  For example: Your dear friend is chatting with you about something important.  You are asked a question and find yourself embarrassed that your mind went somewhere else instead of listening to your friend.  Very apologetically,  you ask your friend to repeat the conversation.  This is what happens in beginner meditation.  You sit still, but it seems impossible to get comfortable.  You try to calm your mind, but the thoughts get worse.  You can not listen to yourself because you can not believe what you are hearing.  Your body may begin to ache or become distracted.   We want others to listen to us so badly, but we can not take time to listen to ourselves.  This is the truth for the majority.  Why do we give up on meditation?  The most common excuses I get is “I don’t have the time”, “I can’t sit still”, and “I can not stop thinking”.  By making the time, you learn how to slow down mentally, physically, and mindfully.  You will begin to notice that you productively get more done than before you had a practice.  

Meditation is a practice that teaches how to detach from the “monkey mind” and find a relaxed state of being.  When we meditate, we consciously observe our mind and as our thoughts come in.  We take control by redirecting the  thought, for example: If a negative thought comes in, replace it purposely with a positive thought.  You could also place your thoughts on a cloud using your imagination and watch them float away.   You use your negative as a teacher to become positive. While doing that, you try to pay attention to the space between your thoughts.  This is where the solutions to the problems are found.  This is the peace you have always been searching for.  This is also where you find yourself.  The more you meditate, the space between gets longer.  

Meditation does not require any particular spiritual or religious belief system.  People of many cultures, religions and spiritual beliefs practice.  Unlike prayer, meditation is listening which allows for both to work hand in hand.  I suggest to students of religion to pray before they begin to add protection.  Meditation is a healthy escape.  In fact, drug rehabilitation centers are adding yoga and meditation to replace addiction.  The more you do it, you are able to release stored toxic feelings and emotions.  With the effort you put into your practice, you are rewarded with clarity and peace of mind. Other benefits of meditation: Happiness, more restful sleep, less stress, dissolve thoughts and negative thought patterns, peace, greater clarity or intuition, relief of anxiety, lower blood pressure, breathe more easily, enlightenment, deeper connection to source, awaken creativity, focused, empower your self to be your true self, heal relationships, ease pain, and end suffering.  The list goes on and on!

How do you begin a meditation practice?  First write down why you want to learn to meditate. What do you hope to experience? Why have you chosen this path? For example: Find self, nurture self, calm the mind, learn how to relax, relieve anxiety.  Now that you know that you desire to meditate, You are ready to prepare your space and gather your tools. Your space does not have to be big, just allow for it to be clean and peaceful. Make sure that you have also set your boundaries with the people around you, letting them know that you need Some time for yourself without interruption.  Meditation suggested tools: Candle, cushion, blanket, aromatherapy, journal, tissue, timer.  It is also recommended that you either shower or clean hands, face, mouth, and feet.  Make sure you eat a few hours before.  Digestion is a distraction.  There are many ways to meditate, but we will focus on these four;).  

  1. Body Scan Meditation: In this meditation, you begin focusing on your breath. As you breathe, you begin scanning your body from the toes, to the crown of your head. You spend a little bit of time on each part of your body. You allow all to be as it is, not judging.  It takes about 10 to 15 minutes at minimum to slowly get from your toes to your crown.  Take your time and if your thoughts take over, just begin where you left off patiently.

  1. Dristi Meditation:  Dristi means one pointed focus.  In this meditation, you will find a place to focus with the eyes either open or closed. During this time, you will listen to your breath and maintain your focus on one point.  If your eyes are open, allow your eyes to soften so that your gaze is easy. Do not allow your eyes to drift. If they do, just very gracefully bring your gaze back to one point. Examples:  Tip of the nose, third eye, navel, thumbs, hands, big toes, far to the right, far to the left, and up to the sky.

  1. Mantra Meditation:  in this meditation, you will be repeating a phrase that benefits you. Examples: trust, om, amen, I am, truth, healing, love, listen, be here, patience, breathe....  You choose this word or phrase to repeat in your head.  Find a comfortable seat at position and tune into the breathing. As thoughts begin to come up to distract you, begin chanting your mantra in your head.  Each time you drift away and get caught up in your thought processes, notice it and observe without judgment.  Take a moment and allow your breath to help you tune back in and continue the mantra. 

  1. Guided Meditation: Guided meditation's are very beneficial and allowing you to train your mind and body. They are quite fun and less challenging. During this time, you are following the teacher’s voice.  They will be guiding you to deep internal exploration.  There are many books, DVDs and CDs available to you on the market. I recommend guided meditation on occasion and that you choose another primary tool allowing for you to empty your mind completely.

One thing to always remember when it comes to self reflection is to have patience, forgiveness, and compassion for yourself.  Life in the outer world is not easy, it too is a practice.  I hope that I have shared enough information to give everyone a good start.  My prayer for all of us is to be free from suffering so that we may live life in the present moment.  Namaste.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Why wait? Don't hesitate to give yoga a try.

 While living in Knoxville, I worked at an Aveda Salon.  Right across the street was a yoga studio.  I would see several cars pull in between class times. Ladies in nicely fitted yoga attire and mats rolled up in hand would be passing and greeting one another.   They seemed really positive and looked physically fit.  I was pregnant at the time and did not have the desire to go into one of the classes, but it did stir my curiosity. Instead of going to a formal class, I received a yoga dvd for Christmas.  6 weeks After the birth of my first child and 55 lbs heavier, my yoga journey began.  The dvd’s served me well until I built up enough confidence to try a class.  

Now, as a yoga teacher and having experienced many different styles, I find there are many reasons one hesitates to going to a class.  There are too many styles to choose from with weird names, you may be required to do postures that will make you uncomfortable,  you're too shy or afraid you won’t do it right, etc..  Where do you begin?  Usually you begin with one intention, then it transforms as you notice the benefits. First establish why you want to try the practice, then decide on the style.

   Modern day yoga teachings in the Western World tends to be based mostly in Hatha Yoga.   Hatha Yoga styles that are more intense for ex: Vinyasa Flow, Ashtanga, Hatha Flow, or Power Yoga will probably include the following:  Breathing, sun salutations , standing and balancing postures, belly or prone postures, reclined postures, seated postures, and final relaxation.  The breathing is primarily Ujjayi Pranayama (I have written instructions for below). You will spend about 5 to 10 minutes just tuning into your breathing to center your mind/body.  Sun Salutations usually follow to heat up the body and give you enough energy to hold the poses.   Salutations are a repetitive series of yoga poses performed in a continuous flowing sequence.  Once you learn how to do them, they do not alter much.  This makes it easy to learn and go to other classes.  For those who have been mislead to think yoga is a cult or religion, salutations are not to worship the Sun.  That is a myth.   The core part of the practice is standing and balancing postures.  Here you are encouraged to hold a particular posture for 3 to possibly 10+ breaths.  You gain a lot of energy during this time.  You will sweat, increase your heart rate, and your thought processes slow down.  Belly and prone postures are considered an important part of the stretches. It is a powerful way to stretch, open, and strengthen the back body.  Seated and reclined postures include many deep stretches, spinal twists, and forward bends. By the time you get to this part, your body is extremely warm and ready.  Moving so much “life force energy” will leave you more alive and balanced.   Finally, corpse pose or final relaxation.  Here you will spend about 5 to 10 minutes lying on your back with your feet hip width apart, palms facing the ceiling, and eyes closed.  You will feel your physical body as your teacher guides you to become more and more relaxed.  You lay still and relaxed until you are instructed to work your way up gently to a simple seated pose of your choice.  You will seal your practice as a group. 

Bikram (Hot Yoga), founded by Bikram Choudhury, is a series of repeated postures.  These asanas are practiced in a room that is 95 to105 degrees.  This allows for more flexibility and sweating.  This practice is usually sealed at corpse pose.  There is no final relaxation practice in this style.  

Iyengar Yoga, developed by B.K.S. Iyengar, is a very popular form of Yoga that is based on alignment.  This style gives you great opportunity to focus strictly on how you are holding the pose.  You gain much focus, concentration, and overall awareness of your physical body.   

Gentle and Restorative Yoga classes are just that.  All that is required here is your mind opening to relaxation.   The format is similar, but these styles usually include lots of props and less invasive postures.  Blankets, bolsters of all sizes, straps, blocks, sand bags are used to make sure you feel comfortable in your pose.  Gentle and Restorative Yoga is wonderful if you have a hard time moving.  If you have chronic ailments or recovering from injury, this practice is for you.     

Holy Yoga is an international Ministry founded by Brooke Boon, a devout lover of the Lord who has facilitated the instruction of more than 500 Holy Yoga instructors world wide, including Philene Trevathan R-HYI 225 from local Dickson County. This system of yoga is built on three main structures;  Asana (postures), Pranayama (breath work) and Meditation.  Holy Yoga applies all three structures with complete focus on connecting to Christ within.

One thing you will definitely learn if you take a Yoga class is Ujjayi Pranayama (Ocean Breath).  Sit comfortably with your spine upright and close your eyes.  Inhale slowly through your nose and exhale out of your nose creating a hissing sound in the back of your throat like the ocean waves.  Make sure the sound comes from hollowing out the back of your throat not your nose.  Try to get a rhythm with your breath, balancing your inhalation with your exhalation.  Make sure to notice the pause between your breaths.  Set a timer for 60 seconds and practice this as often as you like.  You will receive many healing benefits!

The last thing you need to know before going to a Yoga class is etiquette.  Arrive early to settle in, allowing enough time to sign in and set up your practice space. The door is locked during class time to avoid interruptions.  There is nothing more disappointing to the other students than a student walking  in after you have centered your mind.  It is respectful to be on time or wait till the next available practice time.  Bring a towel and purchase your own mat, unless you are new.  Props are like shoes.  You will need your own.   Arrive on an empty stomach.  It is very challenging to do yoga when your stomach is digesting food.  It could make your stomach upset.  Come to class clean and free of strong perfumes.  Prepare to let go of competition and focus inward.  Most studios do not have mirrors for that reason.  You do not need to see yourself or anyone else in practice.  Wear clothes that aren’t too loose and allow you to move freely without distraction.  Remove your shoes and socks at the door (another reason to be clean).   Use the restroom if needed before practice to prevent disturbances during class.  If you need to leave class early, please make sure it is before Savasana, preventing disturbing meditation.

I hope this gives you some insight on where to begin your journey.  Understand that everyone in the West is pretty much new to yoga.  We are all on this journey together.  I will leave you with the statement I frequently get from new yoga students.  “Wow; I wish I tried yoga a long time ago”.  Namaste.