Grounding Into Gratitude: Practicing Santosha on and off the mat

Source: PSU Vanguard

Are we forever chasing rainbows?

Oftentimes, we think that if we get a promotion, get more money, lose weight, have better skin, get a bigger house, or get better with our asanas, we will be happier. We humans are in the constant chase for something that we don’t have, and once we do achieve what we wanted, we would aim for something else, something better. Psychologists call this the hedonic treadmill because we’re running after something only to end up in the same place- desiring more of what we don’t have. 

Santosha, the second of five niyamas, is the Sanskrit word for contentment, which, as stated in the Yoga Sūtra, “brings about unsurpassed joy.”  Niyamas are literally translated as positive duties or observances. Together with Yamas, these are recommended activities and habits to cultivate a healthy lifestyle, and spiritual enlightenment. Santosha tells us that we can only truly find happiness from within, and relying on external factors will never bring us peace. This niyama invites us to be content in the present, and know that we are complete and enough the way we are. This is not to say that we should never have desires or goals. The niyama is simply inviting us to stop wasting energy thinking about what we lack. Instead, we should enjoy the journey, live in the present, and be thankful for what we do have. Intrinsic happiness is unconditional. 

The secret to the law of attraction is to believe that we already have what we want. To manifest the best version of ourselves, we need to be grateful with ourselves and be happy where we are. Yoga is an amazing practice to work on changing our self-harming thought patterns for the better. 

 

How to practice santosha on the mat: 

  • Don’t compare yourself with other yogis. All of us have probably fallen prey to this: a difficult asana comes up in class which we’re not confident of doing; instead of practicing, we look around and compare ourselves with others. Or when we’re stuck in our phones, we tend to look at all these yogi Youtubers and sulk about not being as strong and flexible as them. Santosha tells us to shift the focus back to improving ourselves for the sake of personal growth instead of spending time wishing we had someone else’s physical abilities. Give yourself freedom to enjoy where you are in your practice.
  • Be compassionate to your body. We often forget how much our bodies provide for us: it gets us to walk, run, and perform our daily activities without much thinking. The fact that we can breathe, show up in our mat, and do asanas when we want to is amazing in itself. The least we can do is be thankful by not bringing physical harm to it and to stop saying hurtful words to it. 

Also understand that your body will be different each day depending on what you eat, how well you sleep, the quality of air you breathe, your mental state, etc. Some days you’re stronger, other days you’re very tight. Accept it for what it is at the present and know that your body will always evolve.  

  • Be present in your practice. What makes physical yoga distinct from other workouts is its mind-body-breath connection. It’s normal to get distracted with thoughts of the future or past when you’re practicing. When that happens, acknowledge the thought and try your best to bring yourself back to your movement through focusing on the breath. Being present makes your poses and breathwork more precise too. 
  • Always start and end your practice with namaste. Deciding to show up for yourself on the mat is an excellent practice of self-care. Acknowledge that you are alive, breathing, and your body can perform these asanas for you. That’s already a lot of things to be grateful for. 

 

How to practice santosha off the mat: 

 

  • Start and end your day with gratitude. In the morning, list three constant things in your life that you are grateful for. It could be the presence of your friends, family, a steady source of income, a roof on top of your head, a place to sleep, food to eat, a body that works hard for you, the fact that you’re still alive. When you start your day focusing on these things instead of what you don’t have, you will attract more things to be thankful for. At the end of the day, think about what happened in the day that you’re grateful for.

 

  • Let go of what you can’t control. Oftentimes, the source of discontentment is from things we can’t change or influence such as those that happened in the past or others’ opinions of us. Don’t sacrifice your bliss and headspace for these moments. Instead, focus on what you can directly control which ultimately is yourself- your breath, your attitude, your reaction to things. You can choose to be disappointed or accepting of events. 

 

  • Let go of expectations and perfection. Practice remaining calm in success or failure. Find ease in whatever you’re doing and completely enjoy the process. If you focus on the progress instead of the result, you are directed back to the present and appreciate how far you’ve come. Expectations often leave you frustrated with how far you need to go. Completely surrender to the moment and let life surprise you. 

 

  • Go outside and appreciate the world around you. If you’ve been taking the blue sky, tall trees, or building murals for granted, marvel at them today. Look at all their details and relish the fact that you get to live with all these beauty. Allow yourself to be moved by the wonder of nature. You can keep the state of Santosha by disconnecting from technology so you can really stay in the present.
  • Take yourself in on a date.  To find santosha, you must spend some time alone to truly rid yourself of external validation. You must be content and accept yourself for who you truly are. Yes, your relationships are important and without others, you probably won’t survive but you must be careful on making others the source of your happiness. Sustainable contentment only come from within.

Setting an intention in yoga and beyond

It’s not until recently that I no longer thought “setting an intention for our practice today” is just one of those things yoga teachers say.

It happened when this connects internally for me what intention means, not just for my yoga practice but beyond that in life as well. Let’s look at it from both perspectives.

  • In our yoga practice, an intention is not a goal, it’s a mindset to achieve balance by keeping in mind what I need most at that time, helping me stay present in the moment. An intention can be manifested through a word, a quote, or a feeling. Sometimes it can be dedicated to someone or something outside of myself, which is a great way to increase a positive flow of energy.
  • The true beauty behind an intention is that we will manifest into our lives, that we’ve set in our heart. By returning to the energy of this focus no matter what is going on, we can train ourselves to stay committed to that intention, on and off the mat. 🙂

We were discussing this in class today with Master Ram, having intention is quite different than making goal. It does not aim towards a future outcome. It is a path that is focused on how we are “being” in the present moment, intrinsically and extrinsically. We can achieve this by practicing Dhyana, Dharana and Pratihara.

I believe with true intentions, we can become more effective in reaching our goals to overcome materialism and insecurities. Goals could help us be an effective professional, but being grounded in intention is what provides true purpose in life.

Let’s live our intentions everyday 🙂

The beginning of my meditation jouney

2020 should have been a year when we take everything slowly and pausing for longer. However, I realized that this has been one of the most productive years of my life. I’ve never spent so much time learning about myself, checking in with myself to see how I felt throughout the day.

This is also the year when I decided to give meditation a try and have the discipline to turn it into a habit. My main motivation was: I wanted to be more disciplined in my lifestyle and have more control of my mind. I struggle a lot in focusing on 1 thing and I get distracted very easily – which is affecting me negatively on my daily productivity.

I joined a WhatsApp group from friends to give it a try the abundance challenge for 21 days from Deepak Chopra. 

I started off really motivated and each day I was really looking forward to receiving the daily task and meditation recording. Yes, every day we would receive a daily mantra with its explanation was not only just the 10 min meditation but also a daily mantra as well as some assignment around the theme of the day.

All the way to the 10th class I started to be very distracted also by external factors, unfortunately, by the 12th class, I gave up completely. 

After a couple of weeks, when my routine came back again, I felt the need to pick the meditation back again. I realized that even without seeing much results, I quite enjoyed the journey each day. My thoughts were still hard to be controlled but when there are even a few seconds of that inner quiet and emptiness, it makes it worth it. 

My second attempt is with headspace the APP, this time I created my own routine. Since I was working at home, I needed a morning good habit routine before opening my laptop. 

I would start with a 15/20 min warm-up yin yoga practice, just 3 or 4 poses to stretch and wake up the body. This would help me to focus more also during meditation. As I tried the other way around and it was much harder for me to focus. 

Following the warm-up I would play a 10 min meditation with Mid body and it’s a great tool for beginners as it does guide you through the different techniques on maintaining the focus throughout the session. Some examples that I would recall: focusing on your breath, shifting your focus from the top to the bottom of the body, making sure to check-in on different points of the body.

From time to time I’d also attempt a silent meditation without any music, voice-over to help, and surprisingly It was much easier than I thought. 

This habit lasted for 3/4 months until I started my YTT and came across pranayama practices.

I cannot say that I established a pranayama meditation habit but it’s definitely on my to-do list. 

As you can see, this is just the beginning of a very long road into the meditation journey. I think I’m definitely committed to improve, even by reading back my notes I can see that I made some baby steps forward. 

To sum up, from this experience. The outcome is really not important, as long as you enjoy this journey, no need to stress yourself of the target/ result. It will come.

I hope this was even a little encouragement for you to take on the meditation challenge. Don’t give up!

How can yoga help with menopause?

Symptoms of menopause vary significantly in duration and severity from one woman to the other. They are generally linked to declining levels of estrogen and other hormones. It takes time for the body to adjust to those changes. And during this transition, symptoms can be quite debilitating both physically and emotionally. They commonly include hot flashes and night sweats, irritability and mood swings, insomnia, fatigue, weight gain, bloating, palpitations, reduced libido and vaginal dryness, joint aches and pains (joint, back, neck), problems with memory and concentration, reduced muscle mass and increased risk of osteoporosis.

Hormone replacement therapy is now widely used. But it has been linked to an increased risk for certain health conditions (cardiovascular risks, breast/lung/colon cancer, urinary incontinence…) and comes with side effects. Therefore, health practitioners and patients alike have been looking for healthier and natural alternatives to support this transition. Those include lifestyle changes, diet, exercise… and of course yoga! Research has shown that specific regular yoga practice is bringing significant relief to several menopausal symptoms.

 

How can yoga relief menopausal symptoms?

  • Yoga helps building mental resilience

Regular yoga practice helps to quiet the mind and body. It has been associated with an increased tolerance for pain over time and may help reduce the discomfort. Yoga, and specifically pranayama, have also been shown to relieve stress and quiet the mind. Hence, insomnia can be improved, overall mood is more balanced leading to less irritability and mental calm can help going through menopausal aches and pains. Finally, mental focus required for yoga practice and meditation exercises can improve memory and concentration issues.

  • Yoga supports a strong physical body and the flow of energy

Yoga has been associated with good joint health and joint pain relief. It helps strengthening joints and increasing flexibility. Yoga practice is also energizing and can help with menopausal fatigue. Finally, it will help counteract reduced muscle mass commonly observed with menopause.

  • Yoga helps regulating body functions

Blood pressure may increase after menopause and a consistent yoga practice has been linked with reduced blood pressure and better blood circulation and oxygenation. Yoga is also linked with better weight management which can assist in menopausal weight changes due to hormonal imbalance. Similarly, it can help with hot flashes.

 

Which specific yoga practices are recommended for menopause?

Regular practice of specific asanas, pranayama and dyana have been shown to be all beneficial to relief menopausal symptoms.

Specific Asanas

While asanas may not directly influence estrogen production, specific postures can help control unpleasant symptoms. Restorative postures, in particular, can help relax the nervous system and may improve the functioning of the endocrine system.

Hot Flashes

This is the most common symptom of menopause which is characterized by sudden increase in body temperature and pulse rate. And stress or any tension in the body can make it worse. Hence, recommended poses should be cooling and restorative poses. Supported reclining poses are interesting such as Supta Baddha Konasana (reclining bound angle), Supta Virasana (reclining hero) and Supta Padmasana (reclined lotus) which will soften and release any tightness in the chest and belly. Ardha Halasana (half plow) with supported legs and Janu Sirsasana (head-to-knee) with the head supported, can also help to calm nerves.

We should use props, blocks, or any other support that will help to relax. Supported postures can help relief from anxiety and irritability, without heating or stressing the body. It is important to note that unsupported inversions, strenuous poses, and backbends can sometimes make hot flashes worse.

Anxiety, Irritability, and Insomnia

Hormonal imbalance imposes continual stress to the sympathetic autonomous nervous system and the adrenal glands which exhaust themselves. Forward bends, such as Uttanasana (standing forward bend) Padangusthasana / Pada Hastasana and Prasarita Padottanasana (wide-legged standing forward bend) are helpful to relax those by calming the mind. For insomnia specifically, inversions then followed by restorative postures can help such as Salamba Sirsasana (supported headstand), Salamba Sarvangasana (supported shoulderstand).

Fatigue

Also, a very common symptom, it is likely due to low levels of progesterone and/or exhausted adrenal glands. Gentle supported backbends can help to reenergize: Supta Baddha Konasana (reclining bound angle), again, is recommended. Standing poses like Virabhadrasana I and II (warrior I and II) help feeling strong and combat the fatigue.

Depression and Mood Swings

Regular yoga practice is associated with better regulation and control of your thoughts and attitude. It helps to feel strong, healthy and grounded. Backbends, especially if supported, are recommended bringing a sense of lightness into the body and opening heart and lungs such as Ustrasana (camel) and Chakrasana (wheel). Furthermore, chest opening poses energize the body by improving breathing and circulation such as also Dhanurasana (bow), Bhujangasana (cobra). The same inversions as above, can also help to improve mood. All those positively affects the mind.

Memory and concentration

The same postures that counter depression, such as backbends, chest openers, and inversions, can help increasing cognitive abilities. Adho Mukha Svanasana (downward facing dog) and Ardha Pincha Mayurasana (dolphin) can also improve mental alertness. And Savasana soothes the nerves and can help with better concentration after.

Pranayama

Regular practice of pranayama has also been shown to be beneficial in treating a wide range of stress disorders. It develops a steady mind and strong willpower. It slows down mental chatter and infuses positive thinking. Practice can help, in particular, with menopausal symptoms such as anxiety, irritability, depression and mood swings.

Some cooling pranayama such as sitali and sitkari pranayama can be very interesting in menopause. Both are activating the parasympathetic autonomous nervous system, relaxing the body whilst also cooling it down. It is important to note that in the case of hot flashes, other more regular pranayama such as Ujjayi or Kapala Bhati are not recommended as they are also heating up the body.

Dhyana

Meditation or dhyana is known to help still the mind and regulate the nervous system. It will similarly help for all stress related and mental imbalance of menopause, with no contraindication. It has been also found to be associated with increased melatonin level leading to improved sleep quality, particularly if done in the evening before sleep.

As a conclusion, we need to highlight that every woman is different and will experience different symptoms. Those will also evolve over time and may not be the same from one day to the other. So, it comes down to each of us to experience and adapt practice accordingly to smoothly ride through this life transition!

Why activate your Muladhara or root chakra and how?

Are you worried about basic needs such as food and rent? Do you feel unsettled and keep changing projects, jobs, places? Do you have an unstable relationship with your family? Do you react to stress with excessive eating or drinking behaviors? Those signs may indicate that your Muladhara or root chakra is low.

What is Muladhara chakra and its characteristics? It is the first of the seven chakras, the root chakra, which lays the foundation of the energy system. It is the root and basis of existence, our survival center, our natural instincts. It connects us to Mother earth and provides a sense of being grounded.

  • Etymology: mula means main, root and adhara means identity, basis
  • Location: base of the spine (2nd bone of the coccyx)
  • Symbol: red four-petaled lotus with a yellow square at its center
  • Meaning: Physical identity, stability, grounding
  • Elements: earth
  • Mantra: the bija mantra is Lam; the sound vibrations of the four petals are vam, bam, sham, and sam
  • Colour: red
  • Frequency: 396 Hz
  • Sense: smell
  • Animal: serpent
  • Deity: Indra

Why is Muladhara chakra important for all?

It is the foundation of the physical and energy body. Stabilizing it is key. If its energy is low, we are in a survival mode. We think only of basics of survival, both physical and emotional: safety, food, shelter, comfort and belonging. Unless the root is stabilized, we will not know health, wellbeing, and a sense of stability and completeness. We cannot settle and we keep changing projects, relations, hobbies, places. As a result of this lack of continuity, we may fail and think we cannot achieve anything.

An unbalanced chakra will lead to illness and diseases. For the root chakra, common physical issues include bowel and rectal problems, arthritis, urinary tract disorder, pain in the feet and legs; common psychological issues include feeling insecure / anxiety, stress or sluggish, greed and never feel contented or not good enough, addictions and compulsive behaviors (food, alcohol, drug, sex…), nervous system disease, feelings of disconnect or alienation, family dysfunction, hypochondria.

The soul and life force enter from this chakra. If you have a solid and stable foundation, later work with the other six chakras is easier. If the foundation of the building is loose, nothing can hold. Hence root chakra impacts all the other chakras, as a ripple effect. A well-balanced root chakra also gives you the sense of safety required to explore and to try new things.

How to activate Muladhara chakra?

Activating the root chakra through healing exercises can help restore the feeling of safety and grounding.

Meditating

Meditation is one of the best ways to unblock your chakras. Visualize your root chakra as a bright red light shining out from the end of your tailbone. Let this glow slowly expand and make the whole area warm and relaxed.

Using sound: mantras and affirmations

Chant the bija mantra of the Muladhara chakra, LAM, during the meditation

You can also recite (or listen to) affirmations that relate to home and safety. By repeating these statements, we begin to create new thought patterns, behaviors, and actions that align with feelings of safety and stability. Examples are:

  • I am always safe
  • My home is safe and secure
  • I have a healthy body and a healthy mind
  • I am complete
  • I belong
  • I am grounded / stable
  • The universe will always provide for me
  • I am connected/anchored to the Earth
  • I am financially secure

The root chakra corresponds to the frequency 396Hz, so you can listen to sounds or music at this frequency as well.

Practicing asanas

You can practice postures that open and stabilize the root chakra

  • Uttanasa (forward bend) or Baddha Hasta Uttanasana (dangling)
  • Utkatasana (chair pose) or Parivritta Utkatasana (revolved chair) or Garudasana (eagle pose)
  • Virabhadrasana I and II (warrior I and II)
  • Aschwa Sanchalasana (lunge) or Anjaneyasana (low lunge) or skandasana (side lunge)
  • Malasana (squat)
  • Shashankasana (Rabbit Pose)
  • Paschimottanasana series (seated forward bend)
  • Baddha Konasana (butterfly)
  • Mandukasana (frog) or Prasarita Balasana (wide child pose)

Getting closer to nature

Walking meditation is a very interesting activity when we have imbalanced root chakra and tend to be unsettled. It deepens connections both with our body and the earth at the same time. You can practice mindful walking barefoot on the grass, sand, or dirt. This earthing technique allows us to recharge energy from the earth and release toxic free radicals at the origin of inflammation in our body. You can also simply spend more time in nature, go swimming in a lake or river, resting on the sand or grass, go for a picnic or camping.

Leveraging aromatherapy

Essential oils which can be used to balance and activate the root chakra tend to have deep, slowly unfolding, long-lasting scents, with more red colors. It can be used for massage or with diffusers, candles, or incense.

They include sandalwood, patchouli, cedarwood, cypress, black pepper, clove, red rose, camphor and sage. One need to choose according to its specific manifestation of imbalance (e.g. insecure, stress, bowel dysfunctions…)

Healing from past insecurities

Our sense of safety and security today is often strongly correlated to how safe and secure we felt as a child. The first stage of Erickson development model (trust versus mistrust) also closely relates to root chakra development. By healing from past events associated with home, family, safety, and security will help balance the root chakra.

Practicing Mula Bandha

Practice of the Mula Bandha (root lock) can help consolidate and collect the energy at the root chakra. With this exercise the perineal muscles are repeatedly tightly contracted and relaxed. It is a restraint system to channel the prana.

Mudras and me

Before I started this YTT course, I have never came across the word Mudra. It was only in the first week of the YTT training that we were taught what mudras were. When I was exposed to this topic, I was intrigued by how something as simple as a Mudra can change our energies and have so much mental and physical benefits to us in our day to day lives.

Mudras means seals or gestures. Yoga mudras are gestures that we practise with our hands or fingers. But they can also be performed through our postures and head. Mudras helps us to look inwards of ourselves and Channel And recharge our energies. Some examples of mudras are

  1. Surya Mudra

To perform this Mudra, bend the ring finger, touch the root of the thumb with it and press the finger with the thumb. This Mudra helps to enhance the functionality of the thyroid gland and it helps reduce weight and cholesterol in the body. And it also reduces anxiety and indigestion.

  1. Gyan Mudra

To perform this Mudra, touch the tip of the thumb to the tip of the index finger and keep the remaining 3 fingers stretched out. It helps to sharpen the brain and when practised for long can help to cure pyscological disorders like anger and depression.

I love these 2 mudras in particular. In modern world where people are stressed up by day to day duties, I feel that these mudras are so useful in helping us relax and bring back mental calmness. Moreover many people are down with depression and anxiety including the younger generation and hence these mudras can be so useful to them if practised for long term. Also, our current lifestyle has become very sedentary, with many people always working at their desks for hours and stuck to their gadgets. Weight and other health issues also then appear due to this. So practising these mudras consistently can also be great help to resolve such issues.

I love these 2 mudras and I’m Intrigued by mudras in general because of their efficacy despite its simplicity. They tend to be simple to do and can be done anywhere even when standing or while at work and yet they have so many benefits to us. So it’s a new found knowledge that I learnt and hope to Incorporate into my lifestyle now to enjoy the long term benefits of it.

Running with Mindfulness

A short reflection on running and mindfulness today.

 

My first love is and always has been running – I’ve run consistently since I was a teenager and it’s been a kind of up-and-down relationship. Running when I’m angry, running on good days and holidays. I found my way to the yoga mat in a period when I “broke up” with running for a bit, frustrated with a hairline foot fracture. I feel like this is the beginning of a story we’ve heard many times: person has an injury, yoga saves their life. That is difference from my experience; I keep looking for ways to create balance between yoga and running. These nine-plus weeks in yoga teacher training (YTT) has given me a lot of time to reflect on my relationship with running and how my practice can complement it. In the last weeks, we’ve moved through many asana and the phrase that I keep coming back to, is “sthira sukham asanam” – that asana should be steady, stable and motionless, bringing comfort to the mind without swings or pain, pleasure or suffering. Is it possible to apply this to the act of running? To simply, naturally, be in the motion with no discomfort?

 

On the last few runs, I tried to bring my focusing to my breath and being present (and also not crashing into cyclists or lamposts!). It’s quite different from switching off from being numb or bored after long distances. It’s almost liberating, to find seconds and minutes of centred-ness in motion. Like mindfulness practice, I count the inhalations and exhalations while running, working to get my strides aligned with my breath. Cycles of 20. I’m currently working my way through a book “Still Running” by Vanessa Zuisei Goddard, a mindfulness practitioner and ultra-runner. Her book is helpful and enriching in many ways, but this section was particularly memorable. In “Abdominal Breathing” she writes: 

 

“Begin by establishing a running pace that you can maintain for the duration of your run… Using the hara as ground or ‘seat’ of your awareness, focus all your attention on your breath as you run. Notice how your abdomen naturally expands as your inhale, then contracts as you exhale. Breathe easily and evenly, placing slightly more attention on the exhale as you let your body inhale by itself…. Anchor your mind in it. Let every cell in your body, every thought in your mind, be nothing but breath.When you become distracted, see the thought, set it aside and come back. Keep running until you feel you are well grounded in the breath.”

 

Here I’m thinking – that’s it! Mindfulness as applied to running. Metre to kilometre, seeing the thought and setting it aside. Focus on the breath. I’m going to do this with my runs and see where this takes me, internally.

Yoga for creativity : Meditation and Pranayama (Part 1)

  1.  Are you stuck in a creative rut?

I am a victim of this. I always feel that I have lost my creativity or I get stuck after some time of working long hours, trying to meet deadlines, following schedules and fixing problems in projects and design. It happens to a lot of us, we lose our creativity as time goes. I’ve read some studies online that explains, the reason we lose creativity is because of working too much, stress (because of that first reason), following routine and habits, worrying about the future, fear of failure, having self-doubt, too tired and not having enough time for ourselves, especially in this chaotic world (insert Covid-19 into the mix as well), yikes. Ahhh.. yes, that is called adulting. So I guess this means we may be burning our brain way too much and in the wrong way.

 

What does yoga have to do with creativity?

While yoga is often a way to find peace and clarity in our minds, it also helps reduce stress, anxiety, and clear away the clutter in our brain, balancing our emotions and bringing out the creativity within us. Aside from getting in touch with ourselves, it can also be a way of helping us tap into our creative process, bringing inspiration deep within us. Doing regular yoga practice also supports and further increases your creative expression. As part of your yoga exercise, including meditation and pranayama before your asanas are important as an overall guide to your boosting creativity. Doing only asanas or yoga poses may not totally clear your minds. While meditation is a practice of cultivating awareness, Pranyanama is the practice of refining the ability and awareness of your breathing or flow of your life energy. Meditation can calm our thoughts and make you focused, while Pranayama connects your body and mind, helps you decrease stress balance and through the right breathing techniques.

 

1 – Meditation

Are you still in a confused and lost state, or perhaps not in the right mood?

Try meditation + mindfulness

Meditation or Dhyāna (Sanskrit) is the training of the mind. It is a practice of cultivating awareness of our habitual thought patterns. This has been the core practice of Buddhism in combination with other related practices which together can lead to a perfected mindfulness and detachment.

With meditation, we should also be mindful. Mindfulness meditation is not about wandering thoughts or emptying your mind, instead, it is about paying attention to the present moment, and to rest in the here and now, fully engaged with what we are doing in the present and in that moment of time.

The practice of meditation can be achieved by every individual and when we meditate, we are dedicating a certain amount of time and effort to being as mindful as we can. Practicing meditation regularly can also help reduce stress, increase calmness and clarity within us. It also helps you learn new skills and train your thoughts, allowing your creativity to flow out.  

Benefits of meditation:

  • Reduce stress
  • Enhances self-awareness
  • Lengthens attention span
  • Reduce memory loss
  • Improves emotional intelligence
  • Controls anxiety

The first step is committing some time for this practice. Taking at 10 minutes out of each day shouldn’t be hard, but it is quite easy to get distracted with all the things around us. Commitment and discipline is the key. Including this practice as part of your morning wake up ritual or before going to sleep or starting work also helps.

It is important to create an uninterrupted space where you can sit comfortably, whether it is sitting on a chair or on the floor, it doesn’t matter, as long as you are giving your body is in an easy position and relaxed state.

Aside from staying in one place in mindfulness meditation, there are also other types of meditation that famous companies such as Google and Walt Disney use to boost their employee’s creativity, one of them is walking/ movement meditations, and another is focused meditation. Each person is different, so maybe you want to move after sitting for a long time or staying in one place. Trying out different types of meditation such as movement meditation by walking, dancing, stretching and doing slow movements mindfully can also help release some physical tension and relax, also helping your blood circulate.

I, for one enjoy walking meditation around reservoirs and nature parks. I find that listening and being surrounded by nature makes me calm and more relaxed, and at times when I’m not able to go out, I would try doing mindful meditation. I am still learning mindful meditation as I have a fidgety mind and can last only 5 minutes. Trying to discipline my mind slowly takes time and I’m hoping to get better at this.  

 

To find out more on how to meditate and other types of meditation, here are some links showing easy meditation steps:

https://www.mindful.org/how-to-meditate/

http://www.oprah.com/health_wellness/4-easy-meditation-steps

https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/types-of-meditation

 

2 – Pranayama

Following meditation with a pranayama

Prāṇāyāma is the ancient practice of controlling and regulating your breathe in yoga. In Sanskrit, “prana” means life energy and “yama” means control. In Pranayama, you are controlling the timing, duration and frequency of every breath and hold, making a pattern in your breathing exercise.

The goal of pranayama is to strengthen the connection between your body and mind. Aside from meditation, pranayama can also promote relaxation and mindfulness. Other benefits of pranayama is to improve brain function, better digestion, improve hypertension, boost immune system, strengthen your respiratory system, control or balance mood swings and so much more depending on the type of pranayama you practice.

 

Pranayamas that stimulate creativity:

Kapalabhati (Skull Shining Breath)

In Sanskrit, “Kapal” means skull and “Bhati” means shining or illuminating.

The practice of Kapalabhati or Skull Shining Breath consists of repeated rounds of forceful exhalations, followed by smooth inhalations. The exhalation is generated by forceful contractions of the lower abdominal area. It is an energizing breathing practice that brings clarity and lightness in the frontal region of the brain.

This breathing technique can improve your immune system, help to sharpen your senses and perception, balances and strengthen your nervous system, improving your concentration and memory, aids digestion, asthma and sinusitis, and most importantly for creativity, it de-stresses and brightens your mind.

The best time to practice this breathing technique is on an empty stomach early in the morning, or wait for 3 hours after meals or food consumption. This technique can be followed by a more subtle pranayama such as Nadi Shodana or Anulom Viloma.

For precautions, please avoid this breathing technique if you have high blood pressure, having your menstrual period, pregnant or suffer from any heart diseases. It is advised to consult your doctor or a health care professional before trying this out.

With that said, here are some links and videos that I found on how to practice Kapalabhati:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lA2qAyuaPz0

https://chopra.com/articles/release-toxins-with-kapalabhati-breath

 

Nadi Shodhana (Alternate Nostril Breathing)

In Sanskrit, “Nadi” means channel or flow and “Shodhana” means purification.

With the alternate nostril breathing technique, this helps to equalize your brain hemispheres, leading to deep calmness. Breathing on one side of the nostril at a time stimulates the opposite side of your brain. Example: inhales starting from your left nostrils and ending your last exhale at the same side, stimulates your right brain hemisphere and the other way around.

This breathing technique calms and centres your mind, helps harmonize your left and right brain hemispheres, and also purify and balances the flow of energy or life force through your body. By holding your right fingers in Vishnu Mudra, you will use your fingers by alternately using the right thumb to close the right nostril and the right ring finger to close the left nostril through the breathing exercise. By starting and ending with your left nostrils, this helps to activate the creativity side in your right brain hemisphere.  This can be repeated in 5-10 cycles. For precautions, it is not advised for people suffering from hypertension to do this technique.

Here are some links I found on how to practice Nadi Shodhana:

https://chopra.com/articles/nadi-shodhana-how-to-practice-alternate-nostril-breathing

https://www.yogajournal.com/poses/channel-cleaning-breath

 

Stay Healthy Yogis!

 

Slow down

Today, we live in a fast-paced world – constantly moving from place to place, multi-tasking all the time, being constantly being plugged in to your devices, and just moving through life without stopping and noticing things around you, or taking time to appreciate life, people around you, or even yourself.

I am definitely guilty of this. Definitely.

One of the reasons I picked up yoga a few years back was so that I wanted to learn how to slow down.

And, yoga is not just about asanas.

Yoga is a practice for the mind and body. In class, we had learnt that the 7th limb of yoga is Dhyana. Through constant practice of meditation/Dhyana one will be able to achieve balance between the mind and body.

Dhyana/Meditation is practiced by many cultures everywhere. As we live in a fast-paced, stress-filled environment, there is growing interest in Meditation and Mindfulness.

Through meditation, you can create calmness in the mind, obtain peace within yourself, and gain a better understanding of yourself. There are many benefits from practicing meditation daily: increased focus, improved sleep quality, reduced anxiety, lowers blood pressure, boosts immune system etc.

Meditation can be done by anyone, anywhere. It requires patience, and practice. Constant practice and discipline will help train your wandering mind come back to you.

Start with just 10 minutes, sitting in a comfortable position (you can sit in any position you like, as long as you are able to hold it for a period of time).

To get to Dhyana, first you got to get to both Pratyahara/Withdrawing your senses and bringing your awareness within, and Dharana/Concentration.

You may focus on one thing; an object, your breath, your movements, a person, your chakra..

Observe your breath, and your thoughts as they come.

When about the end of your meditation practice, check in with yourself: How are you feeling?

Do it daily, and reap the benefits of meditation.

While researching, I found various types of meditation techniques that I found really interesting, and experimented with these!

Focused Meditation – Concentrating using any of the 5 senses.
Candle meditation
We experimented with this during Master Sree’s class. I found it really amazing.

Master Sree lit a candle, dimmed the room, and placed it in the middle of the room (at our eye level) with us sitting in a circle around it. We took a few deep breaths, relaxed our bodies, and gazed at the flame, focusing on it. We watched the shape of the flame as it dances, and the colour as it changes. And for a moment, I felt immersed in the flame, and everything around me went into a blur.

Gong Meditation / Singing Bowls
Both the gong and singing bowls have healing properties and are thereupeutic in nature. It is an immersive experience, that helps you to relax and declutter your mind. It’s good for those who does not like to sit in silence. I prefer to sit in silence, but would love to try it some day.

 

Movement Meditation – This is an active form of meditation where movement guides you.

Yoga is a moving meditation technique. Another one that I have recently discovered is walking meditation. One day while commuting, I decided to try it. It felt really amazing to be present and not be distracted by your phone. What I did was: Walk in a pace that is comfortable for me, do a body scan to notice how my body feels, tune in to what is going on around and acknowledge what I see and hear around me. Note the sounds, the smells, physical sensations, movement of the body. Use the movement rhythm as a base awareness. I matched the breath with my steps e.g. 3 steps inhale, 6 steps exhale. I realised this was what I have always been doing when I used to do a lot of running and competitive swimming in my younger days, or when I was diving (yes diving can be quite intimidating especially if you are nerve-y like me, so doing such techniques help me to calm down). You don’t even have to take out special time to do this, and can just do it when you are travelling from place to place!

 

Mantra meditation – Using repetitive sound (word, phrase, sound)
Through repeating a mantra out loud or in your head, e.g. Om, affirming phrases for yourself, and matching your breath with the mantra, can help meditation become easier and feel more relaxed. I have tried this technique by repeatedly saying a mantra in my head that corresponds to the chakra that I was focusing on during my meditation. e.g saying “I am empowered” and focusing on your Solar Plexus chakra, can increase your confidence and self-esteem.

 

Calligraphy meditation – Using Calligraphy
I first experienced this in a temple on Koya san, Japan. Sitting on the floor, cross-legged at a short desk, and using a brush to trace scriptures quietly, focusing on the strokes and the letters. This technique uses the power of words, and perfecting the art of writing, to calm your mind. You may also trace or write words repeatedly on a piece of paper for 10 to 20 minutes e.g. the symbol “Om”. It can be in any shape or form that you like. Or a verse, a word or a phrase. I truly enjoy this form of meditation, and hope you can try it too!

 

Hope that these variations of meditation can help you explore your mind further, drop me a comment if you have tried and how you felt during your practice, and most importantly,

remember to slow down 🙂

 

<3, Veron

My efforts at Yoga Meditation and Mudras

I’ve always wanted to get into the habit of meditation but to no avail, there are always so many distractions out there. I tried all sorts of methods in the past, having a set routine – time and space for meditation, setting alarm reminders, downloading meditation apps like Headspace but I just can’t seem to get into the habit of meditating. However, now, midway through our 20 weekends of YTT sessions, whilst learning about yoga mudras and chakras, I started to really grasp and understand the deeper benefits of meditation. With this newform knowledge, I decided to put what I learned into practice and it really elevated my approach to meditation – not just in the ‘doing’ but also in the ‘knowing’ and ‘internalizing’ what I’m doing.  It was definitely a eureka moment for me when getting the discover the different types of mudras and their benefits.

For a start, I’ve decided to incorporate 3 simple mudras into my meditation practice –

  1. The commonly used Chin Mudra (tips of the thumb and index finger lightly touching, palm facing up) Elements involved are Space and Air. This helps with concentration, our memory, relieves stress, and unnecessary tension, smoothing the mind. I’ve discovered that doing this as and when something is troubling me, whether work troubles or a personal issue, it helps center my mind. Also, on days when I wake up on the wrong side of the bed, sitting comfortably, eyes closed with my hands in a Chin Mudra helps me to start the day right.

 

  1. Another Mudra for deeper concentration and control is the Dhyana Mudra: the Buddha gesture – to bring about tranquility and inner peace. All elements are involved in this Mudra. Personally, I’ve always had problems focusing, with the constant beepings/notifications from social media, emails, messages, etc. it gets hard to stay at one task and complete it without doing something else midway. I practice this for about 10 to 15mins whenever I feel like acting on a temptation e.g. getting a snack, watching a 5 mins Youtube video, looking at my phone, etc. I curb my temptations by refusing to think about it, instead, I think of my inhales and exhales.

 

  1. Lastly, I recently came across the Prana Mudra – “the energy or else spirit of life”.  It activates our dormant energy – increases our energy and health. The elements involved are Space & Water. For when I’m feeling winded or just breathless – after an intense workout or just simply because my involuntary breathing becomes erratic/unsteady – it does help to control my breathing. Sometimes, I do feel that my breath is a good indicator of how stressed I am at the moment – choppy or short breaths, uneven inhales and exhales are clear signs that my body and mind are in a funk and I need to cool down and take a break.

 

You’d be amazed at the results after just 10 minutes, in today’s fast-paced, digitalized way of living, sometimes we forget how to stop and simply observe, not just our surroundings but observe ourselves – our breaths, our mind, our thoughts, feelings. We don’t have to escape to the countryside to find ‘peace’, what most people fail to realize is that with proper effort, peace can be found every day, within ourselves.

All in all, I would say that meditating is starting to come more naturally to me. Before, I had to talk myself into sitting still and calming my mind. Now, after a long day or stressful situation or even in the mornings, I simply sit in a comfortable crossed leg position, close my eyes and practice centering my mind. I’m still a beginner at this and there’s still much to discover but I believe that this is as good a start as any!