DE-STRESSING 101

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Join me at the Sivananda Yoga Camp, Quebec, for a workshop on Stress Management on July 11-12

Here is a small introduction:

We all know the negative impact of stress on our physical, mental and emotional health. Another thing is to know what to do to live stress-free. A moderate level of stress is a normal part of life, but sometimes stress remains below the radar and does not necessarily become evident as in a panic, rage or anxiety attack. The result is that we learn to live with a chronic state of agitation, of being off kilter and out of balance.

It is important to distinguish between traditional stress and the amount of agitation we experience every day. Here I want to look at certain behaviors and feelings that we may have become accustomed to but that are warning signs indicating we are moving into a dangerous zone. This is the first step in managing stress, before it manifests.

1. Do you need a cigarette to relax?

2. Do you need a drink to relax or have fun?

3. When you are hungry, do you feel unsettled if you cannot eat right away?

4. Do you eat, even if not hungry?

5. Is it difficult to turn the mind off when going to sleep?

6. Near bedtime do you postpone going to bed?

7. If you awake in the middle of the night, do you find it difficult to go back to sleep quickly?

8. Do you find it difficult to slow down?

9. Do you like the feeling of being wired?

10. Do you seek constant stimulation?

11. Are you uncomfortable in idle unstructured time?

12. Do you drive fast even when not in a hurry?

13. Are you impatient in line at the grocery counter?

14. Are you constantly checking your e-mails or texts?

15. Do you multitask?

16. When you are on vacation, are you still looking to be constantly busy?

17. If something is not the way you wanted, do you become agitated?

18. Do you obsess about little things?

19. Do you expect perfection from yourself?

20. Do you expect perfection from others?

The point of this quiz taken from Mark Shoen, author of The Survival Instinct is Killing You is to become aware of our level of agitation which might still be manageable or may require making important lifestyle changes.

The 5 points of Yoga taught by Swami Vishnudevananda in his book The Sivananda Companion of Yoga can help you make those changes in the following areas:

– diet (mainly vegetarian, no stimulants)
– exercise (yoga, swimming, walking… not too much, not too little)
– relaxation (knowing when to take a break and learning relaxation techniques)
– proper breathing (full abdominal breathing)
– meditation (breath mindfulness, mantras)

These are the pillars of a healthy lifestyle advocated not just by yogis but more and more by the medical profession.

I encourage you to give your most attention to these warning signs and take action before serious health damage occurs.

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VEDANTA IS EASY!

This is what Swami Medhananda says:  “As long as you know that you are consciousness, Vedanta is easy”. Vedanta is also one of the greatest philosophies of India. Every morning during the month of May, Swami Medhananda Puri, a distinguished teacher of Advaita Vedanta from the Kailash Ashram in Rishikesh, reminded us that we are not the body nor the mind, that we are pure consciousness.

Many obstacles appear when I try to realize this deceivingly simple statement. The first obstacle has to do with the meaning of “consciousness”.  Words are very useful pointers but they can never replace the experience of the “thing” itself, like “water” cannot fully describe the experience of drinking when we are thirsty or the finger pointing to the Moon cannot replace the splendour of a full moon. Words can also be comforting traps as they reassure us when confronting the greatest mysteries of the universe. When I fail to comprehend THAT which sustains me and the entire universe, my  confusion and  bewilderment are very scary.  Not knowing is threatening.  But my resourceful mind comes to the rescue right away and finds a word, a label, for the indescribable: God, consciousness, Buddha nature, cosmic intelligence, the Self…   Ah! now I feel somewhat appeased! However, the mystery remains…

The Moon has been traditionally used as a metaphor for Buddha nature, God or consciousness. A full Moon on a clear night sky is omnipresent, luminous and complete in its beauty and the only way to appreciate it is by simply looking at it. But analogies are only analogies and they never deliver the entire message. When I try to “see” that Moon within me  the only thing I experience is my constant preoccupation with this body and mind.  It is difficult to admit that all my thoughts, words and actions are motivated by the safety of this entity. Raga (attraction) or dvesha (repulsion), desire or avoidance, likes and dislikes, are the impulses that keep me busy all day long and what is worse in a state of bondage. But the Swami proved in many ways that we are not the body or the mind, so how can I be so caught up, so stuck, with this body/mind program?

Perhaps it is my own distinction between bondage and freedom, the striving for the desirable as opposed to rejecting the undesirable that is the cause of my predicament.  I realize that freedom and bondage are again relative terms for those terrified with the unknown. And what if all my goings-on about searching for liberation are subtle ways to avoid taking this moment by the horns, of facing my deepest fears, of becoming truly honest and dropping  all desires and aversions right now once and for all? If I could only let go for a moment the old ways, the false sense of safety, the doings, the strivings, the desire for liberation and just…  BE!  Who is the one striving, anyway?  Can I free myself in that striving by striving impeccably without projections or expectations, free falling without a parachute, beyond doing and beyond not doing,  still and supportless while in action.  What a relief that would be! No knower or object known, no naming, just experiencing… Then I could agree with Vedanta and see eye to eye with Swami Medhananda.

There is a Hindu story of a fish who went to a queen fish and asked: “I have always heard about the sea, but what is this sea? Where is it? The queen fish explained: “You live, move, and have your being in the sea.  The sea is within you and outside you, and you are made of sea, and you will end in the sea. The sea surrounds you as your own being.”

Do you have another answer?

 

 

 

 

 

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DROP IT!

There is a story of a young man who left his family’s village in search of fortune.  He travelled to distant lands but fortune eluded him.  After many years he returned home and there he found a treasure buried under his hut.

For a long time I have also been searching for a treasure here and there.  I have been running on a program where this body, this  mind, this personality was the only reality.  I have looked inside the body and mind trying to find the spirit, the true nature, the God that Masters talk about but because it is so intangible, so difficult to locate, I have assumed that the key to its discovery was outside.

If you find yourself in this same predicament, may I suggest something that may sound radical. How about changing the program? The old one that sees spirit hidden within the body is difficult to grasp, so let’s try a program that sees spirit as the only reality, spirit that happens to have taken at this moment this specific body and that thinks at this moment these specific thoughts. I would like to propose to you to put this new program to the test.

I am going to ask you to drop everything for a few seconds: your identity as a man or a woman, your age, conditions and circumstances, the notion that you are a spiritual seeker, that you are happy or unhappy.  Drop everything you are doing, what you are thinking, even stop reading this. Just for a few seconds.  And if you are concerned about loosing your identity, don’t worry because the old program is so deep that as soon as this exercise ends the familiar sense of self will come back with force.

Are you ready? Please, close your eyes, forget about your doubts, your certainties, forget about who you think you are, forget following your breath, forget even about your Ishta Devata, your protective angel, your Guru. Just rest in an empty space now.

_____ 0 _____

When you open your eyes, do not analyze anything.  There is no good or bad way. There is just getting accustomed to that space, with nothing to hold on to.  Just BEING, not doing, not thinking.  Becoming acquainted with that space and dwelling in it, being it, longer and longer, until the sense of solidity of who you think you are dissolves as clouds in an empty and luminous sky.

May we all find the treasure buried beneath our ground. Om Shanti!

 

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MY INNER TEACHER

My inner teacher always knows best although I do not listen to her all the time. When I try to change a habit that does not serve me well my little mind insists on its old ways as a stubborn child. Patience, born of compassion, is one of my teacher’s  many qualities and with time in her hands she waits eternally until my doubts, fears and hesitations disappear. She supports me unconditionally and remains equally poised before my clarity and confusion. She is always here watching and when I walk again into a dead-end, she patiently sees me fall, cry, laugh and stand up again.

Her pervasive presence is like that of a mother, always attentive. She sees and knows all and subtly points at ways that I do not understand all the time but that I foolishly question. When I doubt my inherent wisdom she always reminds me that I am her child, the heiress of her knowledge. She is luminous, the generator of countless stars, the fuel that keeps my fire going.  Her spacious body is vast like the sky and she invites me generously to rest on her bosom until old stories dissolve like clouds.

My inner teacher is my constant companion, my best friend, who joins me faithfully in countless adventures. She always lets me take the lead but follows me without hesitation.  When I leave her behind she becomes distant and aloof but then I turn my head to look at her and she comes to me.  In silence I listen to what she has to say and that’s when we  meet again like old lovers coming together. Our timeless relationship is an old story of parting and reuniting, of amor and desamor, but in her unmovable compassion she always sustains me in my comings and goings like the ocean sustains the ebb and flow of the tide.  She is my beloved who hears my call for love and although she is sometimes slow to respond I know I can always find her at home, within my foolish heart.   Jai Ma!

 

 

 

 

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ENERGIZING THE RAINBOW BODY

Please chant these beautiful seed mantras and visualize at the same time the colours of the chakras displayed by Shiva: rubi red at the root chakra, orange at the navel, yellow at the solar plexus, emerald green at the heart, blue at the throat, indigo between the eyebrows and violet at the crown.

The vibrations produced by these sacred sounds together with our mental focus have the power to transform and raise our vibratory level. Taking care of our chakras is most important for the health of our energetic, physical and spiritual bodies. The top chakra, the thousand-petal lotus, is specially important.  Besides being our gateway to heaven and infinitude it is connected to the heart which inflames it with love and gratitude and makes it vibrate. In turn the crown chakra inspires the Ajna chakra, its “lieutenant”, to action through will, intention and growth.

In the physical body the crown chakra coincides with the pineal gland, the control center of the endocrine system.  The pineal gland is the size of an almond, located inside the mid-brain and resembling a pine cone. The pine cone is a very ancient symbol used in Egypt and appearing, interestingly enough, in the ceremonial staff  of the Pope and in some Vatican monuments. The pineal gland is a photoreceptive organ in some species and although in humans it is hidden in the recesses of the brain it is called in the esoteric traditions the ‘third eye’, the eye of inner vision and luminosity, the site of “hunches” and intuition.

It was not until the 1960’s that scientists became interested in the function of the pineal gland as they discovered that it produces melatonin, the sleep hormone secreted in the dark. They also discovered that the pineal gland produces the molecule dimethyltryptamine (DMT)  found in many living organisms and considered a most potent psychedelic. DMT is the active ingredient in some plants like ayahuasca, the sacred vine of the Amazon used by shamans to reach altered states of consciousness.  See  Rick Strassman, M.D. (DMT, the Spirit Molecule).

The pineal gland is also considered by yogis the seat of consciousness.  Graham Hancock, a prolific author and consciousness researcher (talks available in YouTube), believes that consciousness enters the embryo on the 49th day of gestation which is the moment science believes the sex of the embryo is determined. Hancock remarks that according to the Tibetan Book of the Dead the soul, after the death of the physical body, also takes 49 days to reincarnate (7 x 7). Also in this very sacred text of the Tibetans there are instructions and practices to eject our consciousness through the top of the head, the fontanelle, at the moment of taking our last breath.  To exit through this opening is considered very auspicious because it facilitates the possibility of reaching enlightenment at this most crucial time.

In meditation we also focus on the Ajna chakra or the Anahata chakra as we chant or recite silently Om, Hum or our personal mantra and as the sacred sounds resound within our heart and mind our crown chakra vibrates and accesses higher states of consciousness, bliss and clarity.

The practices of meditation, chanting and visualization all help to increase the vibratory level of the crown chakra as well as all the other chakras, however there is an infallible way to energize our rainbow body which can be practised anywhere and whenever and that is to attune ourselves to the highest energies of our most honored guests: the budhas, bodhisatvas, gods, angels,  saints, realized masters, guides and protectors.  They are our guests because we have to invite them.  Then we can receive their blessings and become empowered to live in truth, to be good, to do good, to be just, to be pure and to be compassionate. This is the best way to take care of ourselves.

So please join Snatam Kaur’s chant.  May “amrita”, the precious elixir of the Gods, descend upon you!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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ONLY FIVE MINUTES LEFT

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When in meditation  I fall in a state of reverie or sleepiness I imagine what I would do if, all of a sudden, I found out I had only five more minutes to live.  Even though I’m only imagining that possibility my brain gets a real jolt, my heart starts beating faster, my eyes open up and I breathe harder.  I feel a sense of urgency and become present and awake.

There is a story about the Buddha who compared our human predicament to children at play in a house that is on fire. Someone outside calls the children urgently to get out of the house but they keep on playing. The mindlessness of the children in this story could be applied to the way we do so many things in  our life, including meditation. We want to meditate or we have been meditating for a long time but we feel that our practice is stale and uninspiring.  The repetition of the mantra lacks “bav” or devotion or the following of the breath is monotonous and it is easy to get lost in thoughts, imaginings and sleep, specially if it is late at night and we are tired..

The Raja Yoga system, also called Ashtanga Yoga, is one of the four main paths of yoga.  It is a gradual 8-step system where slowly we prepare for meditation which does not come until the 7th step. It is good to remember that there is a preparation process and that it takes time for the body and mind to be ready for meditation. According to Raja Yoga we first work on observing an ethical and healthy lifestyle, then we purify our physical and energy bodies by doing asanas and pranayama and unblocking energy knots in muscles, organs, psychic nerves and chakras.   By this time our body and mind have quieted down, the energy has increased and we are able to withdraw the senses and be still and in silence.  At this point we are ready to start concentrating on a specific point or object and keeping our attention there for a while without being distracted by a fidgeting body and a scattered mind.

This does not mean that we have to excel at all these stages before attempting to meditate but we have to be aware that the body/mind needs time to get strong and stable.   This also applies to the breath as we cannot slow down our breath as long as our body is uneasy and our mind preoccupied with many worldly thoughts. Finally when we find the strength, time and  motivation to sit on a cushion we can start concentration.  Many of the practices that we call meditation are in fact concentration.  We try to keep our attention on a focus (breath, image, mantra) and when our mind wanders away we bring it back to the object of concentration.

As we all know concentration requires effort and the sharper the concentration, the more clarity and focus we get. A Zen teacher used to say: “Big effort, big result; little effort, little result”. I would like to add that it is not so much a question of quantity of time on the cushion but rather of quality and intensity.  This is why I suggest keeping the sessions SHORT but INTENSE, applying yourself 100%.  Throw yourself into the practice you have chosen for 5 or 10 minutes like if those were your last minutes left to live, or like if your house was on fire.  That is a lot of intensity, I agree, but you already know that if you apply yourself halfheartedly nothing much happens. If in spite of applying yourself fully you still feel drowsy or distracted, break the session, stretch your legs, drink some water and even splash your face with cold water if you feel sleepy.  Then resume with your practice. This may sound extreme but we need to approach our practice in a radical manner to move out of our comfort zone.  Keep this plan for a few weeks and then increase the duration of the session little by little as you feel that you want to meditate longer.  The trick is to always get up from the cushion on a positive note feeling that you could have stayed longer.

Have you ever become involved in an activity, perhaps writing or playing music, when you totally forgot about yourself?   It is an amazing experience to realize suddenly that one or two hours have evaporated.  Maybe you even forgot that you were hungry or that you needed to stretch your legs.  That intense concentration is what we need when we sit on our cushion and then, eventually, we may find ourselves moving into a state beyond form and time while at the same time remaining intensely aware.  This is meditation, the 7th step of Raja Yoga.  The next and last step is samadhi, a super conscious state with many  levels of depth.

Finally, Swami Vishnu’s main recommendation for meditators in his excellent book Meditation and Mantras is regularity as through repetition we learn and create new habits.  In this case we are trying to establish the habit of meditation to the point that if you don’t do it one day you will miss it.

To summarize, concentration or meditation is not drifting into a placid state that can lead us quickly into distraction and sleepiness. Concentration requires effort and until we can reach one-pointedness of mind, it is work. Because it is difficult to sustain a sharp focus for a long time it is important not to strain ourselves, so short bouts of intensity and periods of rest are very important. After you have followed this strategy for some time, try once in a while to meditate for the fun of it, forgetting about the time limitation, the effort or the goal.

And speaking of goals, why do we put ourselves through this training? It is good once in a while to refocus our intention.  We want to increase our concentration to be able to meditate.  And we want to meditate because we want to rest, to disconnect from the body/mind tyranny that keeps us bonded to our preoccupations, imaginings, anxieties and fears. When we are able to let go of our story, even for a brief moment, the energy can finally flow through us unimpeded and the result is an intense experience of belonging, love, clarity and bliss, that which we are.  And the reverberations of that surge of energy can last more than a brief moment, they can actually transform deeply the way we think, move, see, talk and approach life.  That is why we practice.

May you all apply yourselves wholeheartedly and may you all drop body and mind!  This is my wish.

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AUDIO – PRANAYAMA SESSION

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This session lasts about 25 min. and we do 2 pranayama exercises:

1. Three rounds of Kapalabhati with 40, 50 and 60 pumpings with retentions of 40, 50 and 60 seconds.

2. Six rounds of Anuloma Viloma, alternate nostril breathing. Inhale 4 sec., retention 16 sec. and exhale 8 sec. If you find this pace too fast you can try inhale 3 sec., retention 12 sec. and exhale 6 sec.

https://soundcloud.com/surya-43/surya-pranayama
 

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