Simple meditation: no yoga mat required

 

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In my garden: Granadilla fruit and flower

Many people today are interested in meditation in a more ‘functional’ way, perhaps as a means to help us to manage stress or health issues and to help us to cope with our busy, demanding lives. Meditation therefore is something we might look to simply as a tool to help us to manage our daily demands.

In his book YOGA (6th Edition_ 1983), Swami Venkatesananda describes meditation as “..the art of realising the universal self, beyond the ego-sense” and as a state of being and awareness where “..the ‘I’ has disappeared and only consciousness remains”  

 

Swami Venkatesananda spent many years as a recluse and ascetic disciple. His yoga practice extended to serving humanity and he believed in teaching through his word and example the ideal of an enlightened life. He believed that there is a way for us all to benefit from a meditation practice and believed in a ‘common sense’ view of our seemingly complex problems.

So how CAN we use meditation in a ‘common sense’ way, in a way that helps us to feel calmer, happier, healthier and more in control of our lives?

I have used my own morning meditation routine as an example of a light meditation practice before starting the day. The practice can take as short a time or as long as you like, even five minutes if that is all you have. I sit for fifteen minutes on average. The important thing is to make it part of your daily routine so that it becomes a habit.

First, I make sure I have a hot cup of tea in my hands and I sit comfortably in bed with my back supported by pillows. The routine is more or less as follows:

Sit with your cup up close so that you can feel the warmth under your nose and between your hands. Breathe gently, noticing the scent and warmth of the steam in your nostrils (coffee will have a strong scent of course). Notice the colour and texture of the fluid and how it contrasts against the inner surface of the cup. Notice whether there are any reflections on the surface, maybe you can see your own eyes mirrored back at you from the surface of the contents. The idea here is just to notice, to observe without judgement or question. Simply notice the sights and sensations of what is in front of you, of what you are holding in your hands. Now bring the cup up closer and take a sip. Notice the feeling of  heat on your lips and tongue,  and the taste and texture of the fluid as it reaches your taste buds. Close your eyes and experience the sensations and the taste of your tea as you continue to gently sip. Pause as you wish and notice other things, such as the sound of the tea being sipped and swallowed, the weight and texture of the cup that you are holding, and the feeling of the breath in the nostrils. The idea is to remain gently focused on the experience of Drinking a Cup of Tea, without the intervention of thoughts about what the day ahead might bring, or about things that happened yesterday. If you find that your mind starts to wander, make sure that you are still sitting comfortably, and gently bring your mind back to the moment. If need be, keep a piece of paper and a pencil close at hand in case something comes to mind that you just can’t ignore and might want to attend to later. Continue with your meditation for as long as is comfortable for you, breathing slowly throughout to help you stay gently focused. Get out of bed slowly so as not to ‘jar’ yourself out of meditation. Take a few moments to yawn and stretch to encourage blood flow through the face and body, and then begin to prepare your day.

You will hopefully find that daily morning practice of light meditation assists to create a feeling of calm, focus and positivity ahead of your busy day, and that it soon becomes a habit!

If you find meditation difficult in the beginning, don’t worry, and be assured that even experienced meditators have their good and bad days. You will notice that I have included all the five senses: sight, sound, taste, touch and hearing. You don’t need to follow my suggested sequence to the letter, as we are all different in how we relate to our five senses. For instance, there is no reason that you cant take a sip (taste) of your tea before looking (sight) into your cup. Over time, work towards keeping the eyes closed as much as possible with the focus on the other sensations as suggested. There is no wrong or right here in terms of sequence. The key issue is to find what keeps YOU in the moment, without your mind wandering off.

Please note that what I have suggested are guidelines based on my previous experience as a yoga practitioner and teacher (please see my About page).

If you are interested in learning more about meditation and in developing a more intensive practice, here are some suggestions Here and Here

 

 

The Human Body: a World in One

 

In my garden: Nodding Pincushion

 

Some thoughts from a book I bought years ago, in my early days as a yoga teacher in Cape Town. Deepak Chopra’s Perfect Health :

“We all tend to see our bodies as “frozen sculptures”- solid, fixed material objects- when in truth they are more like rivers, constantly changing, flowing patterns of intelligence.

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus declared “You cannot step into the same river twice, for fresh waters are forever flowing in.”

The same is true of the body…. Your adipose tissues (fat cells) …is exchanged every three weeks. You acquire a new stomach lining every five days (the innermost layer of stomach cells is exchanged in a matter of minutes as you digest food). Your skin is new every five weeks. Your skeleton…is entirely new every three months….You appear to be the same outwardly, yet you are like a building whose bricks are constantly being replaced by new ones. Every year, fully 98% of the total number of atoms in your body are replaced- this has been confirmed by radioisotope studies at the Oak Ridge laboratories in California.

This constant stream of change is controlled at the quantum level of the mind body system.”

 

Peter Bevan-Baker makes the same point here:

“It is not simply a cute phrase to say we are what we eat: it is an absolute truism. Every cell in each of our bodies gets replaced on a regular basis — some within hours, some years. The bones that are my skeleton today were made of entirely different cells just a few years ago, and those new bone cells came from what I ate (and drank and breathed). We are of the Earth, and it is of us. The “environment” is not something out there, separate from us: it is a description of the continuum in which we exist.”

 

Deepak Chopra’s point about the quantum body is perhaps a conversation for another day. The quantum level is, according to physics, the level at which matter becomes energy, and in Ayurvedic treatment, it is at this level, including in our thoughts and attitudes, that potential for true change and healing exists.

 

The point for me is the wonder of the human body, the natural intelligence which maintains the cycles of little deaths and rebirths that we don’t think about and are not even aware of as we go about our daily business. The body knows what to do. We have an autonomic nervous system which regulates our vital activities such as breathing, heart beat and digestion, and we have an inner intelligence which knows how to create healing and how and where to replace cells in our bodies as needed.

 

And this wonder extends to the body’s ability to interact with our environment within which it lives and breathes. We have an enduring physical connection to our world, via the food from our land and seas, the oxygen and other elements in the air that we breathe, and from our dams and rivers, the water that sustains life in the body.

 

Let us not lose our sense of wonder, for small miracles are happening within and around us all the time. And perhaps take a moment to thank your inner intelligence (your God, or whatever you perceive that to be) and to thank the magnificent world which surrounds and sustains us.

 

 

Minimalism, Your World and You

 

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In my garden: purple verbena and yellow daisies

 

“What is minimalism then?…it’s living lightly and gracefully on the earth. … its uncovering who you are.” Francine Jay

I like the way that this quote points to two issues, without separating them:

1) Francine refers to ‘uncovering who we are’ which leads me to a few questions: Do I have some ‘uncovering’ to do? What are the things that I need and love? What things can I do without, and am I able to let go of these? What are my non-negotiables, the true essentials that add value to my lifestyle and to my life as a whole? What things that I own express my own true needs and preferences, and which do not?

2) She also refers to ‘Living Lightly and Gracefully on the Earth’, which for me is about living with care and consideration for the earth under our feet, and for the environment that surrounds us and gives us life. Minimalism is about living with less and implies going smaller, not bigger.

 

This quote from the wonderfully multi-skilled Peter Bevan-Baker explains further:

“Continuous expansion on a finite planet is not the answer to our challenges: Like our built environment, bigger is not necessarily better. Rather, we need better integration and a recognition of our proper place in the bigger scheme of things”

The use of the word integration reminds us of our deep connection to the world in which we live and that our actions and the choices we make, whether carefully or carelessly, have power and impact.

 

Our individual motives for Living Lightly, or becoming more Minimalist, is not really the issue here. Whether you have become tired of the clutter in your home and have started giving stuff away to a good cause, or whether your concern for our oceans means you stop using plastic drinking straws in order to help stem pollution, the result is that you are making positive change for yourself and for your environment. This is a step in the right direction towards uncovering who we are and living lightly and gracefully on the earth.

 

 

 

Breathe in, Breathe out

I was a Hatha Yoga Teacher for many years, both while living in Cape Town and up until a few years back here in Johannesburg. The traditional Sanskrit term for yoga breathing is Pranayama, and it encompasses a variety of practices, some of which are quite intense and not intended for the yoga beginner. One of the first things that the new hatha yogi is taught is the importance of the breath as part of the yoga practice. To the outsider, Hatha Yoga may appear to be a series of physical movements and postures, but in fact it goes far deeper to a place where the inner organs and systems, and of course the breath, are involved in the practice.

 

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Springtime in the garden: Indigenous South African Clivias

 

One of the cornerstones of the practice of yoga is awareness of the breath, which brings me to the point of this article: The importance of the awareness of breathing in daily life. It is a known fact that our thoughts and feelings have a direct impact on our breathing and this in turn affects the inner workings of our body’s vital organs. Feelings of stress tend to cause shallow breathing which restricts the vital flow of oxygen and the removal of impurities in the body. Simply put, we need to breathe effectively in order to perform effectively, and we need to breathe effectively in order to manage the feeling of tension that is inhibiting our breathing in the first place.

The texts we studied from as teachers placed an emphasis on how to BREATHE DEEPER into the abdomen and rib cage in order to optimize the uptake of the breath, and then to extend the exhalation by drawing the rib cage inward to fully empty the lungs.

When I taught my new students about breathing I would encourage them to BREATHE SLOWER, as a starting point.

I believe that to develop “stress free breathing”, we sometimes need to focus simply on breathing slower, as opposed to breathing deeper. Try the following next time you become aware of feelings of stress, tension or shallow breathing: JUST SLOW DOWN. Relax, and don’t force your breathing -it must not feel uncomfortable in any way. Just breathe normally, preferably through the nostrils, but through the mouth is fine if you need to, and allow your breathing to slow down slightly. Feel free to sigh or yawn if you feel the urge- those are good stress relievers too. Continue reading

“Going Green”: Choosing your battles

Agreed

 

Going green is not all plain sailing. Sometimes you need to make a choice as a consumer, knowing that what you have is not perfect.

Case in point: Beauty without Cruelty  is very important to me,and I wont use products which are not on their Humane list. Either that, or I make my own beauty and cleaning products from natural ingredients (more about that in future posts). HOWEVER, looking at the Humane list, you may notice that many of the items are packaged in plastic, and are overpackaged in general. This is a problem, as I am trying very hard to avoid bringing plastic into my home, and to slowly replace the plastic containers I already have with more sustainable materials such as glass. And there are other issues to bear in mind, such as whether a product is locally produced or imported (shipping invariably generates carbon emissions and generates packaging waste). And whether the raw materials and fresh produce you purchase are from ethical sources where effects on land, people and animals are considered. Another issue that resonates with me is whether a product contains simple and natural ingredients, rather than the chemicals and synthetics contained in many beauty and cleaning products. So it gets tricky, and sometimes you have to choose your battles depending on what resonates in your heart, or depending on the information that you have and what makes sense to you.

The point is, greening is not an exact science, but more of an art. We need to try and strike the right cords until we can finally stand back and feel satisfied, and hopefully happy, with our choices.

So what works for you? What drives you in terms of being a conscious consumer ? How do you Go Green? And let me know if you think of some issue that I have failed to mention above. I would love to know!

Dr. Suess

Let peace start with me

 

“We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do.” – Mahatma Gandhi

 

Mahatma Ghandi was a man true to himself, a man of peace despite the adversity that confronted him. I love this quote of his. It reminds me that we are immensely powerful and that our words and actions can have an effect on how people around us think, feel and act. You may remember events in your own life where there was tension or anger between two or more people in a room, where high emotion such as anger, hurt or similar negatives were at play. At times like this it may take just one kind word from one individual in order to bring relief where there was tension, or peace where there was war. In such a case, that one individual has exercised their power to give, and to create positive change in the process. How we choose to act and what we choose to say is a choice, and sometimes requires that we be selfless, putting our own needs aside for that moment when we see that it is within our means to create peace. Never doubt the power of your choices, and your ability to be the peacemaker in a difficult moment, where others seem to be at war.

What about you…Have you had the opportunity to help others find peace in a moment of pain? When was the last time you were able to be the voice of calm and reason in a difficult situation?