Archive for January 2011

Full Moon Meditation

Invitation

Invite your mind and body to come sit with Swami Veda Bharati on the Full Moon Meditation.

Where

Come to the place where you are simply able to sit comfortably.  Use you’re own location where you will not be disturbed.

When

Wednesday, January 19th

USA time zone is 7pm Pacific Standard Time

Check here for other time zones

Helpful Guidelines

No experience is needed.  Just find your place you can sit with the least disturbance.  Many people will comfortably sit in a chair (not against the back of the chair, more towards the front 1/2)

  • Bring the mind to withdraw from the outside and come inside
  • Sit with the head-neck and trunk in a straight line
  • Relax systematically from head to toe and toe to head
  • Establish diaphragmatic breathing at the navel center–breathe through the nostrils
  • Breath Smoothly, Deeply, Noiselessly and CONTINUOUSLY (beginners just observe the breath and relax, advanced students do the same and the breath then becomes this above described flow)
  • Be mindful of the flow of the breath at the nostrils
  • Allow thoughts to come and go and bring your attention back to the breath
  • Enjoy

These are the basic guidelines to use without a mantra or sound

Mantra Guidelines

  • Establish the above and use the observation of the mantra with the flow of the breath
  • Use any name of the Divine that you regularly use
  • Use a simple breathing mantra like So-Ham (pronounced soooo–huuummm)-Exhale ham and Inhale so
  • Use any mantra given to you in an initiation
  • All sounds are to be heard in the mind not with the lips, tongue or throat

Conclusion

Remember to make this sitting

  • Simple
  • Enjoyable

You don’t need to analyze or learn or do anything.  In fact you are at an advantage if you know nothing about meditation and simple sit and observe your breath–over and over again.

Swami Veda says to invite the mind to sit down at the calm flowing stream of the breath–it will take you inwards to this still and quiet place that we all have and share.

Om, Shanti, Shanti, Shanti

Relaxation of Effort

Proper Practice

In all training we are guided by certain principles.  The Yoga Community often places proper emphasis on proper practice.  One of the keys to skillfully practice is to relax ones effort.  Today we are often mindless doing and exercising.  Often the accumulated tensions of the day and life are held during our practices.  Therefore it would seem proper to point out this dis-stressful style.  Lets look at when you would emphasize this “relaxation of effort” in your practice.  Your practice could be Yoga asanas, Meditation or any movement endeavor/exercise or performance.

Enjoy It

When we start practicing an asana (again it could be a musical instrument or learning to run hurdles), we start doing something.  Often in the context of yoga asana, people are taught to do a form and then  learn to relax into it and enjoy it.  That sounds just fine.  In practice for most of us, it obviates the basics that need to be established primarily.

Sometimes a student is working at performing a particular asana (again think exercise or your choice or other skill).  If they have difficulty with it, they may stop working on it.  They no longer feel like they are enjoying it.  It just isn’t fun anymore.  This Yoga stuff isn’t really right for me.  I try something else.

Trying to perform something and then being unable to do it can be frustrating.  If the emphasis at the beginning is to enjoy it and relax and one doesn’t, then do you give up?  The whole act of practicing is not to perform something perfectly, nor to necessarily find it enjoyable and be so relaxed at the beginning.  (If you are a high level person that can hold a perspective truly of joy in the mind, then this article is not for you).

Practicing is about developing ways of sensing and doing that were not available at the beginning.  It is a journey filled with lots of work.  Perfecting this work/practice will give enjoyment and you will develop over time this “relaxation of effort”.

Hard work

Notice that a gymnast that is able to effortless perform a routine on the rings or balance bar does not start with trying to relax their effort as the primary practice.  It is only after much sweat, extreme focus/sacrifice and over a long time that they can look so beautiful and effortless.

Yoga Sutras

This classic text by Patanjali has 4 chapters/padas.  The second pada, 47th sutra starts out talking on how the posture is made perfect.  The first part in sutra 47 states that it is through loosening the effort or relaxing the effort, that then the posture/asana becomes perfected in it’s steadiness  and easefulness.

Note that the sutra before, that is sutra 46 states that a posture is that which is steady and easeful/comfortable.  Again this steady and comfortable is not what you do.  It is what happens as you WORK in asana.  Often people are teaching to become something at the beginning that we are not at the moment.  Once again, practice is needed which will provide these qualities as almost side effects of proper practice.

Now in looking at the first part of the definition of asana (in sutra 46), steadiness in Sanskrit is called sthira.  One of the first places in the Yoga Sutras that speak about sthira is in the first pada, sutra 13.  Loosely restating the Sanskrit (via Swami Veda Bharati)–…this effort towards sthiti/steadiness is called practice.

The next sutra in the first pada, sutra 14, then pretty much lists the qualities for ones practice to become solid.  (The beauty and depth of the Yoga Sutras are not being communicated here–just an introduction to some guiding principles and how they can guide this relaxation of effort in our practice).

Firm practice when:

  • Practice is done for a long time
  • Practice is done without an interruption (think long term here)
  • Practice that is done right and proper (details are 4 and beautiful, but will not be discussed here)
  • Practice is done fully, completely (not haphazard or partial)

Relaxation of Effort

So one can be guided by such a profound text like the Yoga Sutras.  In this case, one is practicing not to perform something perfectly.  One is practicing to create a steadiness and stability of their asana (again think dance performance, faster sprinter, etc).  This control of that which is not under control, is achieved through practice (only in part, see YS 1.12).

This effort to becoming steady and stable is our practice.  This steadiness is not rigidly still.  This steadiness is the absolute control of the mind and sensory motor system.  It is that which provides  the direction to correct practice.  This practice then takes time–often long hours of practice, done in the way outlined above.  It is not something that just happens without these focuses.

Then as our practice develops in these ways of becoming stable and easeful, we automatically find that there is a loosening of our effort.  Relaxation of effort is not prescribed first as a primary methodology here.  Of course practically you work and relax and repeat.  Just do not underestimate the primacy of working as outlined in the first and second padas of the Yoga Sutras.

Continuing Practice

Steady practicing leads to relaxation of effort.  It begins to flow.  (Practicing means you have a goal.  This goal is that which you focus your mind, body and effort on.)

Relaxing is always easier after working fully, completely.  There is a rhythm to relaxing.  It alternates with hard and skillful work.  Later it becomes not hard, but no less work.  One begins only later to appreciate the lessening of struggle of working FULLY.  One then moves into the  joy of “hard work.”  It is no longer an effort.  One starts noticing that they are just more relaxed.  This richness of practicing is worth the work.

Again if there is anyway I can be of service, please feel free to contact me here.

Effective Exercise

Strong Mind and Body

Do we get the best results from our exercise selections?  How do we select which exercise to perform?  Besides matching the proper exercise for the problem we have, what else is important?

Is being effective due to:

  • The proper selection of the correct exercise?  or
  • How we do that exercise/movement?

Effective Exercise

First we must congratulate ourselves because we are doing exercises.  Next we have usually identified some reason for putting down the remote and/or getting out of bed.  Now let’s move quickly on to someone who wants to perform their particular task or skilled movement better.  It could be that they want to jump higher, cut quicker on the field, get into better shape/condition or simple perform a yoga posture that is particularly challenging.  Let’s take the latter case to illustrate several of these points on how to effectively exercise.  (We are expanding the definition of exercise and bending the definition of yoga asana here to make some points, knowing that the purists may start off disagreeing too early here)

Yoga Asana–Chakrasana

This is not a complete description of how to do Chakrasana.  We are using this posture/asana as an example of some one who wishes to do an exercise or asana effectively.  (This example could be extrapolated into many of the “corrective exercises” being given and performed today.

Let’s start with looking at a typical example of someone wanting to be more flexible.  They have taken up Yoga asanas in a class.  At some point the teacher has progressed to this pose called Chakrasana or wheel.  It is fairly vigorous for many, as can be seen by the picture above.  Again this could be an example of someone wanting to jump higher and get stronger in their legs who at some point starts doing one leg squats.  It really doesn’t matter the movement activity by itself.  It is again looking at how to exercise effectively.

Truly in exercise/movements it would be best if we knew ourselves well.  (Know thyself–OK, end of philosophy).

  • Where do we move well–actually where and in which directions do we have ease and dis-ease
  • What movements are strong/stable/powerful and have endurance (both in mobility and in stability)
  • Which tasks and/or skills do we prefer and which ones do we stay away from
  • Do we move smoothly and in a coordinated fashion
  • Do we breathe or frequently hold the breath with frequent efforting
  • Can we stay focused and pleasant in our mind or just the opposite

These are just some of the aspects or questions to ask in order to get to know HOW we move and therefore better know ourselves.  Knowing ourselves better will allow us to move better.  We can take full advantage then of the exercises or movements being selected.

Maybe Chakrasana (or single leg squats) are not the best exercise at the moment.  Maybe the way in which we do them is not allowing the benefits of those movements to create the tremendous results that await us.

Where (location and direction) and how do we move well (and where/how we don’t)

We need to look at large patterns of movement.  We want to see and feel how the body moves in all directions from the major areas of the body while performing a variety of movement patterns/tasks/skills.

  • Bending and reaching
  • Twisting
  • Pushing and pulling
  • Squatting and kneeling
  • Rolling and crawling
  • Sitting and standing
  • Walking, running, hopping and jumping

Where in the body do we move a lot and where are we stiffer.  Often this inquiry stops here.  It is insufficient.  The shoulders may be tight in lifting them above our head but have a lot of movement in the opposite direction.  Especially important is to notice difference from side to side and up to down.  Maybe our hips are able to extend (backward bend) well but our shoulders cannot open in that same direction.  Maybe one shoulder does more opening that the other–do you see that in Chakrasana then you would create a rotation of the trunk.

Look at the picture again and you see that the hips are opening well in backward bending.  The lower back spine is bending a lot.  The rib spine or thoracic spine is not backward bending at all in the mid to upper back.  The shoulders are also tight in this same direction.

Isn’t it interesting to note that this person is doing the general direction of this Wheel pose.  It is just HOW they are doing it that is of note here.  Therefore they will be over using hips and low back (and neck) and under using shoulders and mid-upper back (and wrists).

What if we knew where we moved and didn’t.  This might totally change what we do and how we do it.  Of course the results would be vastly different.  Our learning then and what we pay attention to would be expanded.  The changes across many different systems could be facilitated (musculoskeletal, fascial, nervous system, respiratory, immune, etc)

What movements are strong/stable/powerful

Again looking at this picture, we can ask several questions.  I know it would be better if we actually had a video.  Then truly we could appreciate the movement qualities better.  This picture and discussion will at least highlight the points of this article.

Looking at the two ends of this Wheel pose–which end, the leg or arm end, looks most stable?  You can see how the weight of the body is carried behind the arms.  Are the shoulders weak or only stiff?  or both?  Address whatever is involved with a more appropriate regression of this pose first.  Identify weakness and lack of stability of the shoulder complex with the arm above the shoulder level.  There are many ways of doing these tests/movement regressions.  We will not go into that detail here.

Looking at the middle of the body and seeing how the front of the lower back (the belly) over lengthens.  The lower back  over shortens.  How much of this over extension of the low back is a mobility problem of the thoracic spine in extension?  (or/and does it involve lack of stabilization of the anterior belly region.)

First you would have to decrease the challenge of this activity.  Take them out of trying to do this asana.  Place them on the floor and have them roll from belly to back with only the arms and head.  Do they activate their belly enough to transmit the rolling through the trunk from the arms.  Could their shoulders and thoracic spine be so stiff as to even impede this movement. Further investigation would be warranted.  This again is just to highlight a perspective of looking and asking questions.

By looking at more of these larger movement patterns, it will become clearer.

Which tasks and/or skills do we prefer and which ones do we stay away from

I wonder if this person loves to do backward bending movements where the shoulders are not flexed near their end ranges (that is over head position, above shoulder level).  So let’s make up a scenario that I see frequently in the clinic.  They would do  easily cobra or lying on their stomachs with arms by their sides.  Even Camel pose (tall kneeling and bending backwards to place hands on heels) would be available.  Any superman type position or boat pose would be done with substitution and difficulty.  They would never practice hand stand as it is too tiring.

If this lack of using the extremities over the head (in Chakrasana) causes such stress, then it may need to be regressed or made easier.

This easier movement may allow the proper awareness and adjustments to overusing and underusing that is being outlined here.

Do we move smoothly and in a coordinated fashion

This examination of coordination and agility reinforces many of the above observations.  Again whatever we move well and strongly, those are things we do.  We always use what we have even when trying to do something else.

Let me digress from this example to talk more of our preferences and avoidance’s in general movement.  We use the same patterns of movements and habits even in opposite directions.  It is not unusual to see someone who is trying to sit on the floor and has a lot of left knee pain (for example–in a cross leg, sukhasana pose).  Sometimes in looking at them you see their weight shifted to their left hip, although they are leaning a bit to their right.  You find they are in right sidebending of their trunk.  When you ask them to sit on a chair and turn right and left they still have most of their weight on their left sit bone.  In other words they do their movements of rotation and still maintain their right side bending of their trunk.  Their coordination remains dysfunctional even though you would give them a movement to change it.

This latter dysfunction a very important point to discover.  Our movement habits often remain and don’t change just because we are doing some corrective asana or exercise.  The WAY we move becomes also very important.

Do we breathe or frequently hold the breath

OK, breathing is so important.  It is a barometer of our mind and nervous system.  Sure at the beginning one may fine this breath rhythm disturbed.  The habitual and repetitive nature of an interrupted breath is very detrimental to our learning and proper response to the exercise.  A jerky breath relates to a jerky focus of the mind and all the other negative effects in all systems.

Try moving only so far as the breath can flow well.  This does not mean that you can’t cause strain.  That is ridiculous.  As one continues to do repetitions or hold the pose, the breath should be noted to start to flow well.  Otherwise there is not practice.  One is just violently stimulating the system.  Of course you have some changes even with the breath always being strained.  This abnormal breath rhythm though is very limiting and over the long term is detrimental to health and well being.

Can we stay focused and pleasant in our mind

Alright, take off the music headphones.  Pay attention to what you are doing and what you are feeling.  A good barometer like the breath is to ask whether you are pleasant in your mind.  GEEZ, you mean we have to be smiling all the time.  OK, less drama here.  Just note what happens to your overall sense of tensing and effort when you notice that your mind is not pleasant.  Whenever I ask this question in class or to individuals, I never fail to see an easing of tension, even a  : o )

Also when the mind is more pleasant–often you will notice an ease in the movements.  Try it just like you would try breathing with more awareness and ease.

Whew

So now when you exercise, you can ask more questions.  Effective exercise is creating the proper effect you want and/or that is available in the stimulation of the movement done well.  Effective exercise involves BOTH the selection of the right exercise the proper way of moving–

  • The Body
  • The Breath
  • The Mind

So before and during your next exercise session, take time to pay attention.  Use the movements to create opportunities to sense and breath.  Train hard up to your capacities.  To know your capacities, you must practice a lot.  You would benefit by coaching or skilled guidance.  Try using these principles–pick one, like having a pleasant mind.  Then go find a skilled coach/teacher and get some quality feedback.

Best of luck in your effective exercise.

Feel free to comment or contact me directly for a consultation.