WHAT THE DYING MIGHT BE TRYING TO TELL US

As I finished writing my previous post on Agelessness and the words of Master Sivananda still resounded in my mind reminding me that I am the immortal Self and that in the ultimate sense there is no death, I came across the story of Jayne Smith, told in Patricia Pearson’s book Opening Heaven’s Door.  Jayne, a retired teacher from Pennsylvania, had a NDE (near death experience) in 1952.  For 25 years she kept it to herself to avoid being told she had had an hallucination.  In any event, the NDE took place during the birth of her second child after an overdose of anesthetic which provoked a cardiac arrest. Even 50 years later, when Pearson met her, Jayne’s voice took on a musical sense of wonder as she recalled the moment:

“I felt myself rising up out of my body.  I thought, this is not right, I should be unconscious but I am still awake.  I know what it is, I’ve died.  And I was overcome with joy because I had not been annihilated.  I thought, I am still here, and I felt so grateful.”

What is striking about NDEs is that there is coherence and consciousness in what ought to be a blackout.  According to  Pearson, about 2% of patients hallucinate briefly before surfacing from general anesthetic, but the content of their hallucinations is disjointed and random. Unconsciousness during anesthesia, as measured by EEG, is associated with an immense quieting of brain activity.

Far from feeling disconnected, Jayne’s response was a rapturous experience of love, so intense that she worried she would shatter. An intense light displayed colours she had never seen before and on what appeared like a ridge in a luminous landscape she saw some figures that wordlessly communicated. “There was a block of knowledge”, she continued, touching again on an element that seems to feature in deeper NDEs, “or what I later suspected was a field of some kind, and I suddenly knew that I was eternal, that I was indestructible, that I always existed and I always would exist.  There was no end. There was no end.

Jayne recovered and delivered her baby and today she participates in conferences as a NDE “experiencer” or perhaps we should call her an accidental mystic.  She is not alone and since there are more and more survivors of cardiac arrest due to advanced techniques of ressucitation, doctors and nurses are the first ones to hear more often such stories from their patients. Some doctors report them and most don’t as this is a nebulous area where not many scientifically educated people want to go into.

This is why reports of NDEs experienced by doctors themselves are very interesting. Of course, we have Carl Yung’s own account and many others reported in Pearson’s book but more recently, last Winter in fact, at the Yoga Retreat in the Bahamas, I had the opportunity to introduce a series of talks by Eben Alexander, a very busy neurosurgeon in Virginia who, in 2008, came down with a rare bacterial meningitis so extreme that he went into a seven-day coma. He had  a 3% chance of surviving, much less emerging without brain damage.  But he did survive completely intact, not before being thunderstruck by a spiritual experience.  His number one bestseller Proof of Heaven tells his story in detail.  His message is again one of immortality and love.  In his case this knowledge came from a young feminine figure that stayed with him. He had never seen that being before but some time after he recovered he happened to locate a member of his biological family as Alexander had been adopted as a baby and had been looking for his family for many years.  That’s when he was shown pictures of a biological sister who had died as a teenager and that Alexander recognized as his  guiding angel.

In all cases of NDE, integration into everyday life is not easy.  “In the four years since my DNE”, said Alexander, “I have been trying to come up with a world view that makes sense. We need to take down the artificial boundaries between religions, and between religion and science”.  He also adds, “No one will ever have scientific proof of that realm, so the title of my book is misleading.  That realm is beyond our understanding. God is a tiny little human word. There’s no way that a creation can ever fully understand the creator.”

For more information on dying and the knowledge we can draw from DNEs I highly recommend Pearson’s book. Her exhaustive scientific research is not only informative but the numerous recent accounts of NDEs she has collected are extremely comforting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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ON AGELESSNESS

Have you ever thought about the relevance of your age while in a deep state of relaxation? When you are enjoying the calmness and well-being of a good relaxation it does not matter whether you are in  your twenties or your eighties.  In both cases you feel just as peaceful and content. Yet, as soon as you return to your habitual mental state you become trapped in time, the past and future dominate your attention and you accumulate time in your psyche and the cells of your body.

The aim of yoga is to live in a state of relaxed awareness; relaxed because through relaxation we can get in touch with our sense of being, beyond time and space, and aware because through awareness we become conscious of being. So the yogi at all times keeps a state of presence by being  (1) relaxed and (2) mindful of all movements, internal and external.  This is how he or she is able to conserve, store or direct energy resulting in a slowing down of the aging process. And even when her physical body grows old her  awareness of her timeless being can shine through her outer form.

The benefit of this practice affects the physical body by strengthening, among others, our immune system. Most illnesses appear when our energy body is discordant whether through blockages or imbalances of energy/prana in thousands of psychic channels. In Yoga we know that wherever we put our attention there the energy flows. So when we are present and focused on whatever we are doing, thinking or saying we are able to utilize vast amounts of energy with a maximum of efficiency. At the same time our mental and emotional health is also strengthened as awareness is the first step towards healing from lower frequency states such as fear, anxiety or depression.

But beyond our concern with the physical or emotional body a constant practice of relaxed awareness is what puts us in contact with our inner being, changeless through time.  This is the timeless realm where God dwells. And when we forget to access that inner Guru or we need to boost our moment-to-moment practice of mindfulness take a few minutes and do the following exercise:

Close your eyes, lie down on your back if you can. Ground yourself by focusing on the different parts of your body starting with the feet, the legs, the abdomen, the chest, the head and so on.  Stay 10 sec. in each part feeling the energy inside those parts. Be intensely present.  Don’t be concerned with thoughts and return your attention to the body.  If you find it hard to be in touch with the inner energy, focus on your breath.  Conscious breathing will gradually put you in touch with a sensation of expansion and luminosity.

Thus become identified with your ageless inner being, the immortal Self that Swami Sivananda exhorts us to discover:

“You are not the body! You are not the mind! You are Satchitananda, (existence, knowledge and bliss absolute) and immortality is your birthright!”

Here are some beautiful sounds to help relaxation from some Tibetan chanting in a Leh monastery, Ladak.

 

 

 

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YOU ARE THE MASTER OF YOUR DESTINY

With gratitude, Master Sivananda.

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BIEN VIEILLIR / HOW TO AGE WELL

 

longevity

 

(For the English version go to the bottom of the French text)

En 1900 l’espérance de vie en Amérique du Nord était de 47 ans pour les hommes et 50 pour les femmes.  En 2012 elle est de 80 pour les hommes et 84 pour les femmes. Bonne nouvelle! Nous avons une treintaine d’années de vie de plus.  C’est merveilleux ce que les avances en médecine et un style de vie sain peuvent faire; malheureusement nos horloges biologiques ne semblent pas être au courant de ces derniers développements.  Prenons, par exemple, notre horloge hormonale et réproductrice. Aujourd’hui les femmes continuent à avoir la ménopause entre 45 et 55 ans, l’âge de la fin de la réproduction. Si nous tenons compte que la fin de la vie avait lieu à cet âge-là tous les problèmes reliés à la post-ménopause n’existaient pas!

C’est la première fois dans l’histoire connue que vous voyons un changement aussi rapide dans l’espérance de vie et c’est les “baby boomers” qui sommes les protagonistes de cette belle expérience.  Cette génération a la réputation de briser les limites connues tout en s’amusant.  Je ne sais si cela est exact mais en tout cas nous vivons une expérience nouvelle avec beaucoup de plaisir.  Nous sommes restés positifs et un peu insouciants.  Nous pratiquons l’attitude positive envers nos enfants et maintenant nos petits-enfants. Nous nous efforçons d’avoir des pensées positives même si cela ne fonctionne pas toujours et nous sommes positifs face à l’avenir. C’est très bien d’être positifs mais soyons réalistes en même temps. Reconnaisons que Kronos est un dieu implacable! Et cela ne veut pas dire que les chirurgiens esthétiques ne continueront à faire de bonnes affaires et des miracles incroyables.

Ayant établi que les dégâts du temps sont irrémédiables essayons de retarder un peu la “dégringolade”. Bien avant la ménopause ou l’andropause, à partir de la vingtaine, la DHEA, “la mère de toutes les hormones”, celle qui équilibre les autres hormones réproductives, commence à décliner.  À la ménopause l’estrogène et la progestérone arrêtent complètement et la testostérone décline 50%.  Quand l’espérance de vie était de 40 ou 50 ans ce mécanisme biologique avait tout son sens. Aujour’hui avec l’augmentation des années de vie on réalise que ce mécanisme ne s’est pas ajusté à notre désir de vivre plus longtemps. Alors comment vivre ces années extra avec un déficit hormonal qui cause une perte de masse osseuse et musculaire, un gain de poids, une perte d’énergie, de libido, de flexibilité, d’optimisme, de mémoire, de sommeil, la fatigue,  l’anxiété, la dépression, etc… Mais restons toujours positifs! Remarquons aussi que ces problèmes n’affectent pas seulement les personnes âgées mais aussi des personnes de plus en plus jeunes. Nous savons que nous produisons aussi d’autres hormones comme le cortisol et l’adrenaline, qui en sur-production, causent des dégâts énormes et dérangent le bon fonctionnement de la DHEA qui, à son tour,  entraîne des dérèglements d’estrogène, de progestérone et de testostérone.

Nous savons que le stress chronique n’affecte pas seulement le sytème hormonal mais également les systèmes cardio-vasculaire, nerveux et cellulaire et qu’il est à la base de nombreuses maladies et un vieillissement prématuré.  La médecine a pourtant la solution: apprenez à gérer votre stress en adoptant un style de vie sain basé principalement sur l’exercice et une alimentation équilibrée.

Le Dr. Dean Ornish (www.deanornish.com), inspiré par les 5 points du yoga, a développé  une méthode basée sur un style de vie sain pour la récupération de patients ayant souffert une crise cardiaque ou un cancer. En octobre 2013, dans la revue médicale The Lancet, une collègue du Dr. Ornish, Elizabeth Blackburn,  prix Nobel 2009, a publié les résultats d’une étude de 5 ans sur les effets du style vie sur le vieillissement. Ils ont trouvé que non seulement le processus de vieillissement peut être ralenti mais que les cellules peuvent rajeunir!  Ils ont constaté une augmentation du 10% de la longueur des télomeres des chromosomes due à une activité accrue de l’enzyme télomérase. C’est la première fois qu’on a une preuve scientifique que le style de vie peut nous rendre plus jeunes!

Alors quel est ce style de vie? Depuis longtemps les yogis nous parlent de ce style de vie que Swami Vishnudevananda a résumé en 5 points:

1. Une alimentation appropriée

2. De l’exercice approprié (plus ce n’est pas mieux!)

3. Relaxation (ralentissez!)

4. Méditation ou prière

5. Support de groupe, socialisation et restez positifs!

Le tout accompagné d’humour et de rire.  Rien de compliqué ou de nouveau.

Quelqu’un a dit qu’il n’y ne reste rien à inventer, qu’il s’agit plutôt d’un recyclage d’idées dans de nouvelles enveloppes.   De nos jours la science, la nouvelle enveloppe, donne du poids aux pratiques des anciens yogis.  Il ne s’agit plus de croire ou ne pas croire à leur sagesse mais plutôt de s’informer et d’agir tout de suite en adoptant un style de vie qui tienne à l’écart les effets pernicieux du stress chronique. Evidemment lorsqu’il s’agit de pratique cela veut dire qu’il faut faire un effort.  Les chirurgies esthétiques ne suffisent pas. Mais la pratique se transforme rapidement en notre guide dans le sens que nous recevons un “feed back” automatique.  Par exemple, après une relaxation profonde, qui ne se sent pas plus jeune et oublie même son âge?

Mais la sagesse du yoga ne parle pas seulement de la santé physique ou mentale.  Elle nous rappelle constamment de pratiquer le laisser aller et de méditer sur l’impermanence.  Voici le côté réaliste.  C’est merveilleux d’avoir un prolongement de la vie mais ne nous offusquons pas et devenons amis le plus tôt possible avec l’inévitable. Ceci est partie intégrante de la recette pour bien vieillir.

—— 0 ——-

The secret of longevity: eat half, walk double and laugh triple”

In 1900 the life expectancy in North America  was 47 years old for men and 50 for women. In 2012 it is 80 for men and 84 for women.  Good news! We have about 30 more years to live. It’s a wonder what the medical advances and a healthy lifestyle can achieve; unfortunately, our biological clocks do not seem to be aware of these developments.  For example, women today still have their menopause between 45 and 55, the end of the reproductive life and, in the old days, the end of life.

It is the first time in recorded history that we see such a rapid change in life expectancy and the baby boomers are the lucky mortals that are the recipients of this boon.  This generation has the reputation to break limits and having fun while doing it.  I don’t know if this is true but we are certainly living a new experience with great pleasure and a positive attitude.  It is wonderful to be positive but let us not forget to remain realistic at the same time and accept that Kronos is an unforgiving god! This does not mean that plastic surgeons will not continue doing good business and performing amazing miracles!

Having accepted that the effects of time are unavoidable, let’s try, nevertheless, to slow down this process.  Well before menopause or andropause, in our 20′s, the “mother of all hormones”, DHEA which controls and balances the other growth and reproductive hormones, starts declining.  At menopause, estrogen and progesterone stop completely and testosterone decreases 50%.  When life expectancy was 40 or 50 this biological mechanism made sense.  Today we see that our reproductive clock has not adapted yet to our desire to live longer, so our dilemma is how to live a long life with a hormonal deficiency which causes a loss of bone and muscle mass, a decline in libido, flexibility, memory, sleep, optimism and an increase in weight, anxiety, depression, etc… But let’s remain positive! We notice that these problems do not only affect the seniors but also younger people.  So there must be other causes for premature aging. We know that we also produce other hormones, like cortisol and adrenaline, that when triggered in excess can affect the proper functioning of the DHEA which, in turn, affects the balance of estrogen, progesterone and testosterone.

Chronic stress does not only impact our hormones but also our cardio-vascular, nervous and cellular systems and is at the root of many illnesses and premature aging.  Dr. Dean Ornish (www.deanornish.com), inspired by the 5 points of yoga, has developped a method based on a healthy lifestyle for the recovery of cancer and heart-attack patients. In October 2013, in the medical journal The Lancet, a colleague of Dr. Ornish, Elizabeth Blackburn, 2009 Nobel prize, published the results of the first scientific study linking lifestyle to aging. They found that not only the aging process slowed down but that the deterioration of the cells was reversed.  They observed a 10% increase in the length of the telomeres of the chromosomes due to the activation of the telomerase enzyme.

What is this lifestyle that can make us younger? For a very long time yogis have been talking about it and Swami Vishnudevananda synthesized it in 5 points:

1. Proper diet

2. Proper exercise (strenuous exercise is not better)

3. Proper relaxation (slow down!)

4. Meditation or prayer

5. Group support, socialisation and remaining positive.

Everything accompanied by good humour and laugh.  Nothing complicated or new.

Somebody said that there’s nothing new under the Sun, that it is more a recycling of old ideas presented in new envelopes.  Science today, our new envelope, gives weight to ancient practices.  It is not any more a matter of believing or not believing in old teachings but rather of informing ourselves scientifically about the pernicious effects of chronic stress and of acting quickly by adopting an appropriate lifestyle.  Of course, this means making an effort, replacing old habits by new ones. But the positive side of practice is that we get a direct, personal feed-back right away. Who has not, after a good relaxation, felt younger to the point of forgetting our age?

But the wisdom of yoga does not only address our physical well-being.  It also reminds us to develop constantly a “letting go” state of mind and to reflect on the impermanence of all forms of life.  This is the realistic side. It’s wonderful to remain healthy even at an advanced age but let’s not forget to make friends with the unavoidable. This is an integral part of a recipe for aging well.

 

 

 

 

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ON RELAXATION AND HAPPINESS

(voyez l’article anterieur pour la version française)

This week-end I was at the Sivananda Yoga Camp in Val Morin, Quebec.  The weather was wonderful, the lilacs in bloom and the gardens superb under the dedicated care of many karma yogis. There were many guests who had come to do yoga and relax for the week-end. We talked about mindfulness in everyday life and how to maintain an alert and relaxed state during the entire day and not just during our yoga or meditation practice. How not to forget our practice, our mantra repetition, the awareness of our breath, of our thoughts and of our actions. It is easy to lose our focus and get carried away by thousands of distractions when we move about during the day.

In the process of doing asanas, pranayama and meditation we learn to concentrate, to be present and aware, and this results in feeling balanced and relaxed. This body and mind relaxation is not only felt during our practice but it is carried outside of the yoga class.  When we learn to be mindful of every stretch, every movement and every breath, this practice is generalised to all our other activities and this way, eventually, we become more conscious, alert, efficient, relaxed and… joyful in our everyday life. In fact, relaxation is a pre-requisite for happiness and as long as we are stressed, worried, angry or depressed happiness escapes us even when we look for it everywhere.  In a state of relaxation there is little space left for the regrets of the past or the insecurities of the future, the confusion clears up and the present moment becomes alive and vibrant. Everything becomes significant, even tasks that seemed menial or boring are interesting, worthy of our attention, and little by little, every moment is worth living with intensity and gusto.

The fact that these “happy relaxed” moments perhaps do not last long has nothing to do with the efficiency of the practices, but rather it is due to our forgetfulness and our half-way commitment.  However, the important thing is that once we have felt the benefits of yoga we know how to re-create those happy moments when serotonin, the addictive “hormone of happiness” is triggered.  We always want more happiness! So, why not become addicted to it by being mindful, aware and relaxed at all times.  Then the way to the heart and happiness will remain open.

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SUR LA RELAXATION ET LE BONHEUR

(see next post for the English version)

Cette fin de semaine je suis allée au Camp de Yoga Sivananda à Val Morin dans les Laurentides.  Le temps était magnifique, les lilacs en fleur et les jardins superbes grâce à la dédication des karma yogis. J’ai rencontré de nombreux visiteurs qui étaient venus se détendre et faire du yoga. Nous avons parlé sur la pleine conscience dans la vie de tous les jours et comment maintenir un état détendu et alerte pendant la journée, au centre de nos activités et non pas seulement pendant la pratique de yoga ou de méditation. Comment ne pas oublier notre pratique, la répétition du mantra, la conscience de notre souffle, de nos pensées et de nos actions.  Il est facile de perdre notre focus et de se laisser entraîner par mille distractions!

C’est précisemment en pratiquant les asanas, le pranayama et la méditation que nous apprenons à nous concentrer, à être présents et à nous détendre. Cette relaxation de corps et d’esprit n’est pas seulement ressentie pendant la pratique mais au-delà de la classe de yoga. Lorsque nous apprenons à nous centrer sur chaque étirement, sur chaque respiration il est possible de généraliser cet apprentissage à toutes nos activités et de cette façon nous devenons plus conscients, plus efficaces, plus forts, plus détendus et… plus heureux. En fait, la relaxation est le pre-requis du bonheur et tant qu’on est stressé, préoccupé, anxieux ou déprimé la joie nous échappe même si nous essayons de la chercher partout. Dans cette présence d’esprit et de relaxation il reste peu de place pour nos obsessions, nos insécurités ou notre confusion et le moment présent devient vivant et vibrant. Dans cet état tout a une signification, même les tâches qu’on trouvait fastidieuses deviennent intéressantes et, peu à peu, la vie vaut la peine d’être vécue avec intensité et gusto.

Le fait que ces moments “d’heureuse détente” ne durent pas longtemps n’a rien à voir avec l’efficacité des pratiques, c’est plutôt notre manque de ténacité ou d’engagement qui peut-être fluctuent. Mais l’important c’est qu’une fois qu’on a senti les bienfaits du yoga nous savons comment retrouver ces moments de bonheur, de faire déclencher “l’hormone du bonheur”, la sérotonine, avec ses effets addictifs.  On veut toujours plus de bonheur! Alors, pourquoi ne pas devenir accro à la joie? Prenons donc bien soin de maintenir à tout moment un état de présence, de pleine conscience et de détente et de cette façon ouvrons la voie du coeur et du bonheur.

 

 

 

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LET’S DANCE!

I look at your face and I miss the clothes you are wearing, I focus on the bird perched on a branch and I miss the whole tree, I pay attention to my dance steps and I miss the fluidity of my movements.  Our consciousness is like a radar scanning the environment looking basically for trouble and ways to avoid it, but in doing so we miss the rest where there are no obstacles. We myopically pay attention to what is immediately important to sense danger or pleasure, but think about all the constants going through us at this moment, like temperature, pressure, light, etc…  We are so used to them that we miss how they shape, condition and unite us.

Language also does not help to get the whole picture. A table is a description of a specific molecular dance, regardless of it being a wood or a glass dance, and so again we forget that all atoms, including the ones in our body, are 99.999999% empty space.  All is in a constant state of pulsation, on and off, a flickering in and out, yet we only notice a flicker at the time, a part of the whole. Our coming and going, our birth and death, move slowly for us so we miss the continuity and forget that, for example, right now we travelling at 220 km/sec. across the galaxy.

I have always been myopic but recently I’ve had an eye operation that has given me a 20/20 vision but, unfortunately, in the process I have lost my close sight to a great degree.  This has reminded me of our difficulty to keep a global, universal vision and yet not lose sight of the ground under our feet. How to remain fully grounded while at the same time shift our attention to the background, to what we thought unimportant, paying attention to the spaces like a painter is aware of the spaces in a canvas. After all, we can see and hear less than 1% of the electromagnetic and acoustic spectra.  How to pay attention to the silence and, like a musician that is aware of the gaps in the melody, listen for the silences in nature, in people and in ourselves.

A constant awareness of an inclusive vision of the world can help us loosen our myopic identification with the part and see the interdependence of all existence.  From this perspective the explosion of a supernova and the death of a microbe are both cosmic events. Millions of cells in our body, just like millions of stars in millions of galaxies, are continuously being born and dying.  Ninety per cent of the cells in my body carry their own microbial DNA which means that they have a “life” of their own, independent of “me” and yet I hold on to an idea of “me” as a separate entity responsible for everything that happens.  But while I keep this grand vision I cannot forget, at the same time, to be impeccable in everything I think, say and do.  How can I perform a happy, sad or tragic dance perfectly without losing sight of all the other dances and not getting lost in my own drama?  Finding a way out of this conundrum is our predicament as human beings. Krishna tells Arjuna to go into battle fearlessly, without seeking a result and a Zen master would tell us to jump into the dance floor and dance until the dancer and the space become one.

So, let’s face it, as long as the music is playing what choice is there but to dance. Of course there are many dances and many ways to dance but for now I chose the tango, full of passion and vibrancy.  Tango, anyone?  Please, join me and let’s dance!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We seem to be caught in our predicament of focusing on a small area of attention to the detriment of the whole and vice versa.  Two visions: microscoping vs macroscoping.

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