30 minutes to Change Your Life: A recipe for peace of mind and mental clarity

I’ve recently begun participating in a yoga webinar with two of my favorite teachers, Elena Brower and Christina Sell. As a part of our homework, we are asked to do sun salutations (as many as we need to to learn something new) and a 30 minute pranayama (breath exercise) practice every day. Yeah, every day. I know. It’s crazy. Anyway, I’ve always been a good student and when I’m given homework I do it. So, I’ve been making time everyday for these practices, and it feels great!! It calms me and leaves my mind feeling grounded and clear. Based on this experience, I’ve put together a 30 minute recipe that you can do to begin to experience the same peace of mind and mental clarity I’m enjoying through my own practice of movement, breath and meditation. Here it is, 30 minutes that will change your life:

1) Move for 10 minutes

If you are familiar with sun salutations, you may choose to practice a simple sun salutation for 10 minutes. If you are unfamiliar with this moving meditation, then any short asana practice will work. Here is a short yoga sequence that you can use if you’re new to yoga or if you prefer to be led. If you can’t bring your hands to your toes or your head doesn’t meet the floor, don’t worry!! Adi, the instructor in the video, has been practicing yoga since she was 15! Flexibility will develop with time. The important thing is to just be where you are, and embrace your body as it is today. If you have any questions about how to make any of the postures in the video easier or more accessible to you, email me: aheartylife@gmail.com. I’ll share some tricks of the trade to make your experience more comfortable!

2) Breathe for 10 minutes

A daily pranayama practice is a great way to cultivate greater mental clarity. Here is Adi again with a short breathing practice to get you started. The more you practice the more familiar and accessible this will be. Try it everyday for a week. The more familiar you are with the rhythm of the breath, the more you’ll get out of it. If you don’t catch on right away, be easy on yourself. Practice makes proficient! Once you’ve mastered this one explore other pranayama practices. This is new to me, and I’m super excited about the benefits I’m experiencing.

3) Sit for 10 minutes

Remaining in your pranayama posture, set a timer for 10 minutes. It may be best for you to start with 2 minutes and slowly work your way up to the full ten. Sitting for extended periods of time can be very challenging if you aren’t used to it, so again, be easy on yourself (notice a theme yet). Close your eyes and breath naturally. Notice the activity of your eyes behind your eyelids. Are they jumping around or fluttering? Just notice. Monitoring the movement behind the eyelids is a good way to begin to quiet your mind (thanks, Christina!!). Focus on stilling your eyeballs. Remember to breath. Thoughts will come into your awareness, some will catch your attention others will not. When you notice this, call your thought “thought”, and return to your breathing and quieting your eyes. Sit this way, breathing and noticing your thoughts, until the timer sounds. A little trick I’ve discovered: if you start to get antsy and want to see how much time is left just say to yourself, “Just another minute.” Tell yourself this as often as you need to. It really works! Taking time each day to sit this way for as little as 5 minutes can work wonders!!

Lie on your back for 3 to 5 minutes. Let your arms rest at your side, about 45 degrees from your torso, palms up. Allow your fingers to naturally curl and be soft.

Try this recipe and practice as often as you can. The more familiar you get with these practices the more natural they feel. Namaste!

Cultivating Inner Quiet: 10 ways to quiet your mind and relax your body

Our world is filled with noise. We are surrounded by outside sounds from television, radio, appliances, and all the conveniences of modern life; and we live with an ever increasing state of noise within arising from feelings of anxiety and depression, rushing through one responsibility to get to the next, the unchecked turnings of our minds, and physical tension. These 10 practices are easy and accessible ways to access more quiet space within and to reduce internal noise, quiet your mind and more affectively relax and rejuvenate your body.

1) Reduce External Noise

It’s a loud, loud, loud, loud world. Cellphones, iPods, radio, television, cars, the appliances in our home all contribute to the ever increasing external noise around us. One of the simplest ways to begin to cultivate internal quiet is to reduce the level of external noise. Turn off the car radio, even if it’s just for several minutes. Spend the first 10 to 20 minutes of your evening in quiet, without the radio or the television. Try completing a chore in quiet. As you practice this more often, you may begin to notice that the initial discomfort you experience in response to the silence around you shifts and dissolves, leaving you craving moments and spaces without all the external noise.

2) Listen

We each have two voices. One that bounces around between our ears, the voice of our minds; and one that arises from below as intuition. As we begin to cultivate quiet we can develop skills to distinguish between the two voices. Often times we get caught up in what the voice in our mind is saying as it turns things over and over in never ending fluctuation. That is the job of the mind. It’s role is to sort through our environment, experience, and perceptions. It catagorizes and “makes sense” of the input from our external world. It is not, however, our Self. The voice of our true, highest nature arises from the heart. It is this voice that is informing of our purpose and our most genuine, conscious action.

This step is also applicable in conversation. We often spend our listening time in conversation formulating our own thoughts and responses rather than truly listening to the person we are speaking with. Take time to really listen to the person speaking and not your own mental voice, the next time you are engaged in conversation. It is only from this place of steady listening that we can begin to formulate an honest and grounded response rather than an emotional, patterned reaction.

3) Speak Less

Speaking less is a simple way to cultivate inner quiet. This goes not only for your conversations with others, but also conversations with yourself (those chattering fluctuations mentioned above). Choose a manageable period of time, such as thirty minutes or an hour, and vow to speak only when spoken to. Have a mini silent retreat, even if it’s just one hour. When you return to the world of unbridled conversation, practice thinking twice and speaking once. It isn’t always possible to maintain a personal silent retreat in the midst of a busy work day, but noticing how often we speak when it really isn’t necessary is a good first step to noticing how not speaking can support a more peaceful state of mind and body.

4) Soften your tongue and eyes

Anytime that it occurs to you during the day, practice noticing tension in your tongue and jaw and the position of your head along the sagittal plane. That is, how forward your eyes are in your head. Think of softening and gently widening your tongue from it’s base in your throat to the tip and softening your eyes deeper into their sockets. This can be done anytime, anywhere: while driving or standing in line at the grocer, sitting at your desk, while filling your gas pump or during a telephone conversation. Softening these areas of your face cultivates quiet in your skull, which in turn can affect your mind and help to facilitate speaking less and active listening.

5) Practice Gratitude

Feelings of lack and desperation can wreak havoc on your sense of quietatude. Instead of taking stock of what isn’t, count the blessings of what is. You can’t focus on what is missing if you’re in a state of appreciation for what you have. Dissonance is created when our actions do not match our beliefs and when we perceive that our experience is lacking in some aspect. This increases the level of cellular tension within the body. Did you know your cells can be tense? They can. Just like the previous three steps this can be practiced anywhere, anytime. The benefits of practicing gratitude on stress level and general health and well being, are well documented and produce immediate results. Finding a source of gratitude in each and every manifestation brings the self to a state of fulfillment. To a wise man, enough is a feast.

6) Tune into your senses. One at a time.

Give your attention over to your sensory experience, focusing on one sense at a time. Eating is a good time to practice sight, smell and taste. Focus your awareness on the appearance of your meal. Take in the form and color. Notice how your body responds to the smells. Chew slowly and absorb all the flavors of each bite. To tune into your hearing turn off the tv and radio, eliminate intentional noise, and tune into the other, incidental noises in your environment. Can you hear the clock ticking or the birds outside? Don’t try to name what you perceive, just notice. When you get into bed at night notice the temperature of the sheets, the softness of the pillow, and how your body responds to reclining. Your mind will want to name things, that’s normal. Don’t get caught up in it, passively receive what you perceive.

7) Focus on one task at a time. Take your time.

We are a multi-tasking society. We rarely do only one thing. Whether we are watching TV while surfing the internet, listening to the radio while driving, or tweeting while doing potentially anything our attention is divided everywhere we go. Make it a point to give all of your attention over to one task. With this kind of focus, you can be productive and precise in your task while also cultivating quietitude.

8) Notice your thoughts. Notice your breathing.

When we are in a state of heightened anxiety, fear, or confusion our breath shortens and becomes more shallow. You don’t have to be in an uncomfortable state for your thoughts to affect the depth and quality of your breath. Sometimes simply thinking intensely about any subject can cause us to shorten or even hold our breath. Meditative sitting is perhaps the best way to begin to experience this relationship. Find a quiet place and take a seat that is comfortable. If you are not used to sitting cross legged on the floor then give yourself some support. Elevate your hips by sitting on a yoga block or a cushion. Support your back against a wall or if necessary sit in a chair with both feet touching the ground. This practice is most effective if you are in an upright position. Reclining is not encouraged. Once you’ve found your seat, close your eyes and observe your natural breath in and out of your nose. Assigning descriptive words to the quality of your breath isn’t necessary. Simply watch your breath as it enters and exits your body through your nose. Your minds natural state is one of thinking. Thoughts will arise from all corners of your mind. The objective is not to stop your thoughts, but to notice them and the space between them. When a thought arises, simply label it “thinking” and return to watching your breath. The more you practice this the easier it becomes. Understanding comes from participation. Proficiency is born of practice.

9) Notice how your thoughts affect your body.

This can be done as a part of the sitting practice, but can also be practiced anywhere, anytime. Our minds, bodies and spirits do not operate independently of each other. Each is connected to the other in both subtle and gross ways. This is most often experienced when we are sick or injured. When our body is not operating at it’s best, it can contribute to reduced self esteem and melancholy. Likewise, when we brood over an experience or circumstance our feelings of vitality and happiness are compromised. Our minds and thought patterns also have an affect on our physical bodies. Next time you have a negative thought, stop, pause and scan your body for tension or muscular tightening. Does an argument with a loved one create tension in your belly? Do feeling of depression or vulnerability lead to compression in the center of your chest? Do worries about work or frets over a decision create subtle tension in your solar plexus or wreak havoc on your digestion? Over time these slight compressions in our physical bodies create resistance to the flow of oxygen and prana (life force) contributing to reduced flexibility, mental blocks, false images of ourselves and physical illness. Getting in touch with how your body responds to your thoughts, can serve to break this chain and help us stay open, balanced and quiet in the midst of challenging circumstances and relationships.

10) Find what you love to do. Do that thing.

Whether it is making music or another form of art, preparing food, dancing, playing sport, performing, making discoveries, or any other activity; if you have not found that thing you love to do then let your first priority be to find it. Nothing compares to the blissful experience of engaging in something you love or sharing your unique skill or talent. Your most joyful activities are direct links to your inner most sense of quiet and ease, joy, love, and peace.

Some of the benefits I’ve noticed from these practices are: greater confidence and clarity in decision making, less anxiety and worry, fewer negative critiques of myself, better listening skills, calmer and more thoughtful responses to challenging experiences, more of an inclination to seek out quiet within and without. Give these steps a try and let me know how they work for you.

It’s All Yoga. A tale of road rage and redemption.

Tonight I lost it. My cool, my center, my common sense all in a matter of seconds. It was admittedly not my most yogic moment. For those of you who need not the gory details, I commend you. Skip down to paragraph 3. For the rest of us, here’s how it went down:

I have a persistent habit toward road rage and tonight my demon reared his ugly head. Again. I was driving home from work, but not on my usual route (not that that is of any real significance or excuse). As I left the office I called in take out and I was on my way to retrieve it. My delicious and much anticipated paneer tikka was awaiting my arrival, and I was praying my love wouldn’t grow cold. Much to my dismay traffic sucked, and I was clearly in the wrong lane if I was going to make the most of this unfortunate situation. So, I signaled. I am sure the woman in the other lane saw me. She flinched. She took a second, and then she decided. Not to let me in. I sped up a bit, with my blinker still blinking, and still she refused my entry.** So, I made her. I got far enough ahead of her to squeeze the front end of my car across the line and I dared her, “Let me in you witch, or else hit me!”. Needless to say she didn’t like my ultimatum one bit, and she made her dissatisfaction duly known. As if my behavior up to this point had not been bad enough, I proceeded to yell something like, “You SAW me!! I had my damn blinker on!!!” For added effect (since I was aware enough to know she couldn’t hear me), I proceeded to engage my blinker in this fashion: rightleftrightleftrightleftrightleftrightleftmyblinkermyblinkermyblinkerrightleftrightleftahhhhhhhhhh. Somewhere around that point I started to calm down. Then it hit me. That was ugly. That was embarrassing. That was dangerous!

As the incident wound itself down, I began to notice myself compiling a laundry list of reasons why I was justified. She SAW ME and she DENIED me. I couldn’t let her get away with that. I have TANDOORI to pick up dammit! All very sound and justifiable reasons for cutting someone off in rush hour traffic. Right? Wrong. Why had I done that? What is this slip up all about? I’d been doing so well managing this! I’m a yoga teacher for cripes sake!! Then I remembered a blog I posted on my Facebook page about the the guru principle and misunderstanding about the role of the teacher and I remember what my own teachers, Laura and Cat said just this weekend, “Everyone is always doing yoga all the time; practice comes in when you are aware and skillful. Everyone is on the path.” And so since the yoga had clearly already begun, I decided to put on my big girl panties and take a look at why I’d fallen off the wagon and straight onto my ass.

I had to get honest. First, to admit that I was wrong. I was wrong and she was right less wrong. I was angry with myself for not taking advantage of choosing the quick route when I could, and admitting I missed it because I wasn’t paying very good attention to begin with. Humph. Now why might that be? I was playing with my phone (insert sheepish look here). Traffic was bumper to bumper and I wasn’t really being that negligent, but that’s beside the point. If I’m going to be truly honest this isn’t the only area in which I’ve been less than mindful this week. My house is a mess, I’ve been sleeping later than usual, I’m wasting time at work, and not only am I not trying to meditate I am actively and with full awareness ignoring the voice in my head that is telling me to “sit down and shut up”. Double humph. Triple humph. Shit.  I haven’t been very engaged with my yoga.

So, here I am. Turning my gaze upon awareness and engaging as honestly as I can. I am confessing to you as a means of holding myself to the highest accountability (and hopefully I will give you something of value to receive). Getting on my mat isn’t enough. Not when I’m escaping into negligence of my other practices. I wish I could apologize to the woman I cut off. I hope she was engaged enough with her yoga to let it go. We are all human and perfectly imperfect. Completion is unattainable, and it isn’t the goal to begin with. The goal is recognition and the expression of that awareness. I may always struggle with a tendency toward road rage. If I’m skillful enough to remove it from my path, I can rest assured that there is something else waiting to engage me underneath. Tonight, I’m hitting the reset button. I will clear my house of the clutter, and resolve to wake with the alarm in the morning. When my inner voice says “sit down and shut up”, I will take my seat and I will breath. AUM.

It isn’t whether your are right all the time that matters. It isn’t important that you always be perfect or even always good. It is about paying attention, listening, and being honest. It is about putting that awareness and knowledge into action, and forgiving if what you discover disappoints the grandest illusions you hold of yourself. Be kind. First and foremost to yourself. Don’t be afraid to look at the parts of you that are ugly. It’s all yoga, and we’re all on the path.

**Let me just take this brief aside to air a little gripe. Women, you do this. You see people with their blinker on, and you pretend not to see them, and you don’t let them merge into your lane. You do. Don’t deny it. I see it all the time. Not to mention the thousands of times I myself have done the same (I’m working on it). What’s the big deal anyway? So we let someone in. It doesn’t make us pushovers. It makes us considerate. Think about it.

Nostos Algos

Today was an assault of memory.
Faces, places and days long past
showed up rapping at my door
tapping on my mind

peddling feelings of
nostalgia and dis-ease.

So I sit with them.

I want to run,
but I stay
and feel and know
and remember to forget.

Remember
that to err is glorious
and wise.

To forget is a luxury.

I take in their images,
but I give them no words in return.
Can I bore them with lack of conversation?
Some things don’t let you go,
and it makes me curious.

I wonder what I’ll do with the next hundred years.

Self, meet Mind.

I stumbled on this beautiful commentary on the nature of the mind and our attachment to it. This is a fundamental teaching of yoga, so simple yet so difficult to integrate at times. I love how he describes mind as the “Names and Forms Department”. Learn more about Mooji here. Enjoy!

 

Meditation 101: Calling a Spade a Spade (or in this case a vritti)

I am a consistently inconsistent meditator. I’m not sure why this is. I feel noticeably lighter, calmer and more aware and receptive after even a brief meditation. So, what gives? I recently taught a yoga class around the 5 types of thought. There are only 5, did you know that? Only 5 different ways your mind turns, and lately I’ve been considering that perhaps my idea of what constitutes “real” meditation is a bit limited. Maybe, just maybe, I mediate more often than I’m giving myself credit for.

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, the first known text on yoga, states that yoga is the cessation of the waves of thought. In sanskrit these waves are called vrittis. Patanjali lists 5 forms of thought, and all thought (no matter the subject) fit into one or a combination of these 5 categories: 1) Correct knowledge – seeing something correctly, as it actually is. We acquire correct knowledge through our direct experience, our intuition, and insights from the wise or information from experts. 2) Misunderstanding – seeing something incorrectly. 3) Imagination or Fantasy – daydreams, “rehearsing” conversations or dreaming up scenarios. Imagination is one of our greatest tools of survival. It allows us to problem solve and formulate goals. 4) Deep sleep – the absence of the other four vrittis. This is easily confused with the absence of thought. In deep sleep the mind is focused on a void, on nothingness. This is not the same as the absence of thought with the presence of awareness which is the goal of a meditation practice. 5) Memory – the recalling of past experience, voluntary or involuntary.

So, each thought you think, all of the thousands of thoughts that cross your mind in a day are really just one of these 5 vrittis. The Yoga Sutra explains that when we identify ourselves, when we derive our sense of being, from these vrittis we experience suffering. Each of our thoughts can have either a positive or negative affect on our present state. Each is either colored by our experiences and our beliefs, or it is uncolored, standing alone without any projections upon it. Buddhist philosophy says: All is suffering. Your experience either feels bad and you suffer or your experience feels joyful but doesn’t last and therefore leads to suffering. Yoga takes a similar perspective. Patanjali says that when we perceive ourselves to BE our thoughts, when we attribute these turnings of the mind to our identity, then we suffer. However, yoga teaches us that when we are able to stop the turning of the mind, when the vrittis are quieted, then we are able to see our true nature. We are in union (yoga) with our true Selves – pure spirit, consciousness, bliss and joy.

So, back to meditation. Meditation is the focused practice of not identifying with thought. It is NOT the absence of thought while being aware. That is samadhi – the mind is still and one pointed, the being is aware, the seer and the seen merge in blissful union. The purest joy is attained. That is the goal, not the practice. If you are like most non practicing meditators then you might think that in order to properly mediate you have to sit on a cushion with your legs crossed and clear your mind of all thoughts, at which point you are free to totally bliss out. That’s a pretty tall and easily discouraging order for a busy modern mind. Here is what I’ve noticed:

In one single day, I have a million and a half opportunities to clear my mind. For every thought I think there is an accompanying moment to choose to be quiet. This is the meditation I think I’m not giving myself credit for. An example: I have IED, intermittent explosive disorder (commonly known as Road Rage). It’s a problem. So someone cuts me off, or goes too slow, or does some asinine thing or another in their car and I lose it. I get mad. I get raging mad. And who suffers the slings and arrows of my discontent? The other driver? no. ME! I do. Occasionally the unlucky person who happens to be in the car with me experiences an unwelcome energy shift too, but mostly it’s just me. My heart races, my peace is disturbed, my blood pressure rises, my eyes bulge…you get the picture. What good does it do me? None. It’s not a release. It’s a disturbance. The offending persons go on about their merry way not knowing or caring or being otherwise affected by the very colorful and eloquent string of carefully selected curses and insults that pour from my otherwise sweet and genteel self (ok, maybe genteel is a bit much). I’ve been working on this for the last year, and I am proud to say that I am getting much, much better! So when the offending action appears in my experience I take a breath. I focus my mind on slow and steady breathing. I take a time out. I arrest my rage before it arises, and I keep that focus on just breathing until my mind drifts off into some unrelated thought. At work, at the grocery store, whenever I notice my mind reacting to something I don’t like I try to remember to do this. When I catch myself wallowing in self pity or being despaired of my own emotions, I take a time out. Sometimes I do it just because it occurs to me that I can. I focus on my breath, and I breath. I let my thought drift away on my breath. Isn’t that meditation? So, I’m not sitting on a cushion and doing this for 20 minutes at a time, but it’s a start. Don’t get me wrong, I think sustained meditation is incredibly beneficial and I continue to aspire to it. Even five or ten minutes of sustained practice has an amazing affect on a person’s state of being. Sustained meditation leaves me feeling like I’m existing in another dimension when its over. I just think there are a thousand opportunities to experience the immediate benefits of meditation in every day that feel more approachable and accessible.

The result of watching my thoughts in this way, of taking those small moments when I’m left waiting in one line or another to focus my mind on my breath and not my thoughts is that I’m more calm, happy and responsive (rather than reactive). Recognizing that I can quiet my mind anytime I want is liberating! I don’t expect it to stay quiet forever. Truth be told if there is such a thing as a bad meditator then I’m probably one. Except, I don’t believe there is such a thing. I don’t think anyone can be a bad meditator. Some are practiced and some are not. That is all. Our minds are designed to think – to produce thought. That is the function of the mind, and without it we would all be in a big ole heap of trouble. But here is the secret – You are not a victim of your thoughts. You are not the atoms in your body or the activity within your brain or your nervous system. You are a conscious being. You are in a constant state of connection with your highest Spirit, God, Supreme Consciousness, The Divine, The Force – whatever you want to call it is fine because – YOU ARE A PART OF IT. That is the gift of meditation.  Each time I take that moment to choose to be still and experience that I DO have the ability to stop my mind, even if it is for the briefest moment, I become more in touch with that higher Self. It becomes more and more apparent to me that I am not this body or this mind. The more I take those small opportunities to practice that awareness, the freer I become.

I say often that if everyone practiced yoga the world would be a better place. I’m not talking about the exercises, although I think every body can benefit from them. The real juice, the real might of yoga is in the art of noticing. You don’t have to stand on your head. You just have to believe that you are good and worthy of attention. Then you have to give that attention to your Self. That’s really all mediation is I think. Taking a little time to notice yourself, to see your mind and your body, but also to see that you are much, much more than that.

A Simple Meditation for Empowering Yourself and Improving Your Relationships

Each relationship you have – whether it be family, lover, idol or adversary – is really about the relationship you have with yourself. So, to be disappointed by another is an opportunity to evaluate your own expectations. When someone does something nice for you it’s a chance to recognize what you deserve. What you dislike in others points to your own shortcomings, and the beauty in others points to your own highest Self.

Other people and their choices aren’t responsible for our feelings no matter how profoundly good or bad, but rather our own perceptions determine the quality and state of our Being. It is the reflected image of our Self that moves us.

Do not give your power over to the choices of another. You are not a victim of anyone. Your happiness is not dependent upon anyone. We are each a unique expression of the Highest Self, reflecting the infinite potentials of Creation.

Take these opportunities of relationship, and use them to see deeper into your truest nature. Know that you are everything you see – even the ugly stuff – and so is everyone else. Do this: live and let live, take an honest moment to see yourself in everyone and reach for the highest version of you. Stop blaming and accusing and turn your observation inward. It isn’t always easy, but the first step is to remember. Practice makes proficient. Do this and see if it changes your relationships. See if it changes the quality of your Feeling in any moment.

For me, this is a form of meditation.

Here is a way to practice:

When a conversation starts in your mind that imagines or relives a future or previous conversation with someone in your life, first notice that you are a non participating observer in the conversation. You hear both parts, but are not wholly one or the other. Next, ask yourself: Is this imagination or memory? or both? Then, whichever the answer, ask yourself: What do/did I most hope to gain from this conversation? Keep your answer to one word or a simple sentence. Lastly, ask yourself: What is one way (one thing I can do) to provide this wanted thing for myself that doesn’t involve or affect the other person?

Do that thing for yourself, and notice how you feel. Don’t judge your choice or the outcome, just notice.

If you have a hard time answering these questions, don’t worry or judge,  just keep practicing. It gets easier and the answers begin to come quicker and more clearly.

Next time a conversation arises in your mind regarding a relationship with someone in your life remember to do this again. Your brain won’t stop having spontaneous thoughts; this is what your brain is meant to do. The more you practice observing it rather than running away with it the more you benefit from your mind as an amazing and dynamic tool. The more you become your truest most empowered Self.

Namaste