Sound Meditation: Why it Helps?

Sound has an ancient kinship with meditation and healing.
Sound baths is a meditative experience, where the attendees are “bathed” in sound waves. By using repetitive notes at different frequencies, you will be able to remove your thoughts and enter to the meditation stage. Generally, these sounds are created with crystal bowls, gemstone bowls, cymbals, and gongs.
Sound meditation is a type of meditation that focuses on the hearing sense. There is an ancient sound healing ritual practice, similar to modern sound baths, that uses Tibetan singing bowls, quartz and bells in the session. The practices highlighted how the experience of sound manifests not only through hearing but also through tactile physical vibrations and varying frequencies.

Current research has also indicated music has mental and physical health benefits in improving mood and reducing stress. There are many different theories that attempt to explain why sound experiences can be linked with deep relaxation and physical pain relief.
One hypothesis is that sound can numb our pain perception by stimulating touch fiber through the vibrational tactile effects in our body. Study has found that low-frequency sound stimulation improves sleep and decreases pain.
Another hypothesis is that while listening to certain frequencies of the sound, our brain can synchronize and change the electrical activities (brainwave) accordingly. The premise of the second hypothesis is that the brain synchronizes its brainwave frequency to the difference in hertz between tones played in each ear, which, depending on the frequency, can lead one to states of deep relaxation associated with beta waves or meditative theta waves.
Try to discover the sound healing effect next time when you do meditation.


Reference: https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/urban-survival/201907/the-healing-power-sound-meditation

Meditation with Singing Bowls

I’m not one who can sit still or lie down in Savasana and meditate through the complete quietness without having passing thoughts through the minute, and therefore have explored different methods to quiet the mind through while focusing on holding through yoga poses, swimming, walking in the park, to even trying out sensory deprivation tank. These have worked pretty well and as much as I enjoy the moving concentration, i find that i was unable to reach a deeper state of it.

Recently during one of the practice while we close in Savasana, i was pleasantly surprised by a tone that surrounds the room. I could feel the sound vibrations sending goosebumps to my body while wondering if it was an instrument playing or was it a from speaker. While the sound kept echoing i decided to stop questioning and allow myself to just enjoy the moment and go into deeper relaxation. Our instructor then introduced us to the Crystal bowl that she was playing and there, i am intrigued.

So just yesterday after a day of cycling and practicing ashtanga sequence on the mat, I remembered Master Sree mentioned that meditation has also helped him relief the tiredness and soreness from the physical training when we were on the topic during lesson. While i didn’t have a crystal bowl with me, i did a search on youtube for a 15mins Tibetan singing bowl and got myself to savasana. Of course the sound from the speaker wasn’t as great as the real crystal bowl experienced in the studio, but it worked pretty magic! Was it full relaxation or was it meditation, i don’t know. But i managed to get myself into a deeper state and 15mins went by really easy and comfortably, and i must say it really did help relief that ache on that glutes from cycling.

So while i have found what works for me to start, I have also seen improvement with the help of constant practice of yoga. And i look forward to the day that i will be able to sit through a longer period of meditation without any assistance.

Types of Meditation

What is Meditation?

Meditation can also be defined as a set of techniques that are intended to encourage a heightened state of awareness and focused attention.  Although tied to many different religious teachings, it is more about altering consciousness, finding awareness, and achieving a sense of calm and inner peace.

These days, in quest to reduce stress and to find sanity in the midst of our busy schedules and demanding lives, it has becoming vital to meditate.

 

Why meditation is beneficial? 

  • Lower blood pressure
  • Reduce anxiety
  • Decrease pain
  • Improve sleep
  • Ease symptoms of depression
  • Psychological well-being

Types of meditation practice:

  Meditation Style How does it work? Ideal for
1 Mindfulness

Originates from Buddhist teachings and most popular technique in the West.

  • Pay attention to your thoughts as they pass through your mind.
  • Don’t judge the thoughts or become involved with them.  Simply observe and take note of any patterns.
  • Combines concentration with awareness.
  • Focus on an object or your breath while you observe any bodily sensations, thoughts, or feelings.
Those who don’t have a teacher to guide them, as it can be easily practiced alone
2 Spiritual

Used in Eastern religions, such as Hinduism and Daoism, and in Christian faith.

 

  • Similar to prayer as you reflect on the silence around you and seek a deeper connection with your God or Universe. (can be practised at home/place of worship)
  • Essential oils are commonly used to heighten the experience such as:
    • Frankincense
    • Myrrh
    • Sage
    • Cedar
    • Sandalwood
    • Palo Santo
Those who thrive in silence and seek spiritual growth.
3 Focused
  • Concentration using any of the five senses.
  • For example, focus on something internal, like your breath, or bring in external influences to help focus your attention.
  • Try counting mala beads, listening to a gong, or staring at a candle flame.
  • Simple in theory, but it can be difficult for beginners to hold their focus for longer than a few minutes at first.
  • If your mind does wander, it’s important to come back to the practice and refocus.
Anyone who requires additional focus in their life.
4 Movement
  • It can be Yoga, walking through the woods, qigong, and other gentle forms of motion where the movement guides you.
Those who find peace in action & prefer to let their minds wander.

 

5 Mantra

Prominent in many teachings, including Hindu and Buddhist traditions.

  • Uses a repetitive sound to clear the mind. It can be a word, phrase, or sound, such as the popular “Om.” It doesn’t matter if your mantra is spoken loudly or quietly.
  • After chanting the mantra for some time, you’ll be more alert and in tune with your environment to experience deeper levels of awareness.
  • Easier to focus on a word than on their breath.
Those who don’t like silence and enjoy repetition.
6 Transcendental

 

  • More customizable than mantra meditation
  • Using a mantra or series of words that are specific to each practitioner.
Those who like structure and are serious about maintaining a meditation practice.
7 Progressive relaxation
  • Also known as body scan meditation,
  • Aimed at reducing tension in the body and promoting relaxation.
  • Involves slowly tightening and relaxing one muscle group at a time throughout the body.
  • In some cases, it may also encourage you to imagine a gentle wave flowing through your body to help release any tension.
Anyone who wants to relieve stress and unwind before bedtime.
8 Loving-kindness
  • Used to strengthen feelings of compassion, kindness, and acceptance toward oneself and others.
  • Involves opening the mind to receive love from others and then sending a series of well wishes to loved ones, friends, acquaintances, and all living beings.
Those who withheld feelings of anger or resentment.
9 Visualization
  • Focused on enhancing feelings of relaxation, peace, and calmness by visualizing positive scenes or images.
  • Important to imagine the scene vividly and use all five senses to add as much detail as possible such as imagining yourself succeeding at specific goals, which is intended to increase focus and motivation.
Anyone who wants to boost their mood, reduce stress levels, and promote inner peace.

 

How do I know which meditation is the right one for me?

  • Choose the one you feel most comfortable with & encouraged to practice to meet your needs
  • The one that complements your style & personality

 

How to get started?

  • First, sit quietly and focus on your breath.
  • Start in small moments of time, even 5 or 10 minutes, and progressively to an hour.
  • Sit consistently for at least 20 minutes every day and do it for 100 days straight if possible.
  • Combine that with an additional 2 to 5 minutes of meditation throughout the day

Meditation is something that cannot be forced as it comes with regular practice where eventually it became sustaining, nurturing and relaxing.  If the style chosen does not fit, just try another!   Regardless what you are looking for, be it spiritual enlightenment or a moment of peace, you will get there. 😀

Mala Beads for meditation

What is the origin of mala beads?

Sometimes known as Buddhist prayer beads, mala beads are long necklace-type tools traditionally used for mantra practice and meditation. They have a deep connection to mental grounding and help opening the mind to spirituality. They are similar to other forms of prayer beads used in various religions and referred as a “rosary”.

They are originally made of Rudraksha, natural seeds found in Malaysia, Nepal, India and South East Asia. Rudraksha is believed to be the 3rd eye of Lord Shiva. Those beads have some incredible benefits on life and health. They have a major effect on the heart chakra and hence, regulates the blood pressure They also bring stability to the entire system of the human body.

Nowadays mala beads can also be made of a variety of natural gemstones or wood beads which provide specific energy properties and personal significance.

 

What are the benefits of using mala beads?

The mala beads have the power to control your stress, charge your soul, give you clarity and focus, protect you from negative energy. They also have health benefits.

 

How can you use your mala beads?

The mala beads are traditionally used to repeat a mantra (Japa) but it can also be as simple as chanting Om or recite a personal intention, accomplishment or desire. Mala beads necklaces typically have 108 beads (a sacred number which represents spiritual completion) plus a single “guru” bead to signify the beginning and end of a count cycle.

  • Seat comfortably with your spine straight, your eyes closed and hold your mala in one hand
  • Start off with three deep, clearing breaths to center and align yourself in your intention
  • Envision light surrounding your mala and say or visualize your intention
  • Starting at the guru bead, turn each bead between your thumb and middle finger, pulling it toward you as you recite your mantra
  • Travel around the mala until you once again reach the guru bead. You’ll be reciting 108 times
  •  When you reach the Guru bead, you take a pause to give thanks to your Guru or to dedicate your meditation to someone

There is no need to be religious or have a spiritual practice to wear mala beads. If meditation is not part of your practise, you can simply wear it to reconnect to your breath and to the personal intention you have set, or when seeking a calmer mind, body and spirit.

Using mala beads as cues for breathing can also help you to bring more intention and concentration to your pranayama practice.

 

How to choose your mala beads?

It is as simple as following your intuition and picking the one you are spontaneously drawn to. Once you’ve chosen a mala, you can investigate the meaning of the gemstones and intention with which the mala was designed. Surprisingly you’ll notice that the one you selected has the qualities you may be working on or trying to cultivate into your life.

The mala that you are attracted to is the one for you; it’s as simple as that. 

 

Every gemstone and crystal is said to have its own unique energy and meaning.

  • Agate is a stone bringing emotional, physical and intellectual balance
  • Citrine is the stone of life, sun and life. It corresponds to the Solar plexus Chakra and the parts of the body connected to it. It is supportive of self-confidence and renewed determination
  • Jade is a stone symbol of purity and harmony. It helps to stabilize the personality by releasing negative thoughts
  • Rose quartz is the crystal of love and peace

 

How to care for your mala?

Rudraksha, gemstones and crystals are sacred and deserved good care. They vibrate at certain frequencies and amplify the energies you send through them while drawing out negativity from your body.

In order to cleanse your mala beads you can

  • Gently wash them with natural soap and warm water
  • Bathe them in the natural light of the full moon
  • Smudge them with either sage, incense or Palo Santo

After cleansing, you might want to charge your mala beads by leaving them in the sunlight or the moonlight for few hours. The energy of the sun and moon is said to return the beads to their own pure vibration.

Besides being beautiful and energized, using a mala during meditation can help focus your mind and your breath as you move through the practice. Just give a try!

Meditate through poses

As I regularly meditate, meditation during movement is a common practice I do, but how to meditate when doing exercise is quite a challenge. As the excessive breath and big movement will make it quite hard to focus.

Surprisingly after regularly practice, I realised we can easily go into meditation in between poses. This can be achieved when we have increased lung capacity, better understanding of breathing sequence, and a more flexible and stronger body.

The benefit of yoga poses is it is a controlled movement, the more we practice, the smoother the transition is. We can build muscle memories and focus more on breathing that make us go into the pose easier.

With enough practice, we can focus into the poses and sense the changes of muscle, thoughts and surrounding. Eventually I realised it also brings the very same effect of doing meditation, which is calmer mind, steadier heartbeat and lighter of body and mind.

Meditating before a dance competition

On the 13th of May 2021 —which is just yesterday as I’m writing this on the 14th— after the YTT class at 1pm, I went off for my 1st dance competition. Thus far, I’ve only ever performed professionally/in school throughout my dance journey, but never have I participated in a competition as a solo competitor. Yesterday was my first.

Something about the word “competition” drives me more nervous than I normally would be for a performance, although technically I will still be doing the same thing: going on stage to dance.

I was stressing out and overthinking the entire time while waiting for my turn, so I decided to try meditation to see if it would help me regain composure (another first for me yesterday) because I’ve only heard of but never experienced the benefits of meditation for myself. 

Ahamkara Mudra

I also googled “mudras for self-confidence”, as holding mudras during meditation channels the energy flow in the body and reinforces specific healing states of the mind1, and Ahamkara Mudra showed up. 

This mudra stimulates the solar plexus (definition: a complex of ganglia and radiating nerves of the sympathetic system at the pit of the stomach)2, and helps to overcome our fears and doubts, giving us confidence and peace3.

Throughout my meditation, I kept chanting internally “I can do this” while trying to visualize myself on stage dancing, but it was not an easy task at all.

 

 

I realized that I had to put in the effort to actively concentrate on the dance itself because there were so many other thoughts in my head and my legs were getting numb from sitting.

Towards the end, there were a couple of moments in which I felt that I was “floating” in my mind. I felt as if there is a huge water droplet shifting around in my skull. Although I’m not sure if it was my body physically shifting that caused the illusion, but what was interesting about it was that I did not recognize that I was in the state until I “went out” of it. 

I ended my meditation when I felt that I was confident in my abilities and mentally stable, which to my surprise was an hour-long. (note: it is not healthy to hold a mudra for more than 45mins!) The effects of the meditation were lovely. I felt different being on stage. There was a sense of comfort and reassurance that came from within while I was dancing, and I could feel the energy flowing through my body and my intentions coming from my heart. It was a good first experience and I would definitely practice this again for future performances! 

— Mandy, 3 May YTT 2021

Restore Balance In Your Mind & Body With Pranayama

“I took a deep breath and listened to that old bray of my heart: I am, I am, I am.” – Sylvia Plath

Image from Unsplash

Breathing is something that we do involuntarily, day in, day out. It comes as no surprise that we hardly ever think about it.

However, the breath is closely connected to the mind and body – so even if we don’t realise it, they can actually influence one another.

When we develop the awareness and learn to breathe consciously, we can then create balance in the mind and body. This can be especially useful since we live in a fast paced world and sometimes forget to slow down.

If you’re dealing with stress on the regular, pranayama (life force extension via the breath) can do wonders for you. For those who simply wish to improve your well-being and health, it is a great tool for you too.

After all, studies have shown that having a regular practice of simple, deep breathing can reduce anxiety and depression, boost energy levels, improve immunity and reduce feelings of stress, among other benefits.

Ready to make every breath count? Try any one (or all) of the below techniques to restore balance in your mind and body!

1. Kabalabathi

Image from Unsplash

Kabalabathi translates to skull shining, and as its name suggests, this breathing technique rejuvenates the mind and body. Also, it improves memory and concentration as well as enhances blood circulation.

How to do it:

  • Sit in a comfortable cross legged position with your hands on your knees
  • Keep your spine straight and close your eyes
  • With both nostrils, take a deep breath
  • Pull the stomach inward and exhale sharply in short bursts
  • Follow each exhale with an automatic inhale
  • Repeat the process for 10 to 15 minutes

2. Anulom Vilom

Image from Unsplash

Anulom Vilom, or alternate nostril breathing, helps to ease symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress. It also boosts memory and improves lung function.

How to do it:

  • Sit in a comfortable cross legged position
  • With your right hand, bring down your index and middle finger to your palm, and use your thumb to close your right nostril
  • Inhale through the left nostril for 3 counts
  • Close the left nostril with your ring finger and exhale from the right nostril for 6 counts
  • Inhale through the right nostril for 3 counts
  • Close the right nostril and exhale from the left nostril for 6 counts
  • Repeat this process for 5 minutes and focus on every inhalation and exhalation

3. Ujjayi

Image from Unsplash

Ujjayi is also known as ocean breath, simply because of the sound you’ll make when you exhale.

If you love being by the beach, take a moment to enjoy the ocean wave-like exhalation sounds while improving your focus, clearing sinus and staying positive, among other benefits.

How to do it:

  • Sit in a comfortable cross legged position
  • Inhale gently, in a long deep breath, from both nostrils
  • As you inhale, contract your throat and avoid letting the air touch your nose
  • With relaxed and light breathing, exhale with your mouth open or closed and repeat 3 – 4 times

Meditation – the ultimate reset of our being

During meditation, stress hormones like cortisol and adrenalin are reduced in our blood whilst bliss hormones like dopamine and serotonin are produced.  The bliss hormones would stay in our body system for a while until the next daily mediation begins. 

Meditation can change the brain over time.  

  1. Long-term meditators have better preserved brain than non meditators (https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01551/full).  
  2. Meditation reduces activity in the default mode network, which causes the mind to wander, most of the time to less uplifting thoughts. (Yale university, https://www.pnas.org/content/108/50/20254.short)
  3. Meditation reduce the symptoms of depression, anxiety and pain according to a study conducted at John Hopkins
  4. Some Harvard scientists found out in a study that mediation can change the structure for the brain by increasing the cortical thickness of the hippocampus.  Hippocampus helps with learning and memory.  They also found that the brain cell volume of amygdala, which is responsible the fear, anxiety  and stress is also reduced due to meditation.  
  5. It is also believed that meditation has the ability to epigenetically change our genetics, bringing about positive physiological and biochemical changes in our body.  There are substantial literature that suggests medication including other practices like Tai Chi, Yoga and etc can alleviate stress-dependent symptoms of various diseases including psychological disorder, inflammatory diseases, aging and cancer.  (https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.01767/full).  More studies in the future have to be done and recorded to scientific prove the correlation between meditation and epigenetic. Until then we remain hopeful. 

To breathe, to live, to be

What have I learnt in yoga so far? The experience I’ve gained is profound and hard to explain in words but in this blog post today I will attempt to share my version.

Will start in 2017, 4 years ago when I was 25. I was the typical university grad born in the 90s who’d found a decent job and thought the world was my oyster, and all I needed to do was to claim it with my guts. I had the fair share of disappointments from how I thought the world “should be”, but consoled myself that I was ok as long as I had a good-paying job and born into a decent family. I was filled with ego, from my so called achievements, my so called guts, and my so called “potential to achieve so much more”. In case you’re wondering…. no, no tragedy happened which turned me to yoga. During the period of my 25-27 years of age, my little bubble of make-believe comfort and make-believe chasing after money just seemed duller and duller as days passed. I was chasing sales targets like my self-worth depended on it. I had made money my identity, and would never exit the home without at least 1 labelled item. I didn’t know who I was without things. I had become the “product” of our world of advertising, that we are nothing without possessions. The partner I had then was also similar to me, and we only ran in circles chasing possession after possession.

My family are ‘spiritual’ people. Due to my stubborn personality growing up, I had cut out all spiritually driven “practices” they had tried to influence me with. Nevertheless, I always feel the love they have for me- their love is expressed through their acceptance of me. As what I had learnt through this YTTC, their love for me is really like a lotus leaf, as depicted with our Heart Chakra, Anahata. The lotus leaf does not absorb the substance, but has the capacity to hold space. Growing up, they had taught me (without words) the way of yoga. They live humbly, with enough to care for themselves, and contribute in ways of enriching their lives everyday with selfless service back to community. They counsel for free for families with traumatic experiences. I can say that I was unknowingly blessed by their spiritual journey growing up, even though I was then chasing another path.

As I chased higher sales targets and achievements, my stress levels were getting to an unbearable point. I relied on alcohol for an emotional crutch, I was chasing meaningless relationships, searching for a way to quench an insatiable thirst which I didn’t even know about. I signed up for gym membership in 2018, and started a few yoga classes. Little did I know, I starting growing onto yoga week after week. It was the start of something unexplainable, the only thing I looked forward to every week was my teacher guiding us on the mat. On the mat, I slowly connected back to my self, my core, and to be aware of my mind and thoughts. It was the only way I knew how to.

During the circuit breaker period last year, yoga was the only thing I looked forward to. Shortly after circuit breaker, my then long term partner and I broke up. I felt like I had completely lost it. Not only did I experience a drop in sales during that period of time, I had also lost a significant relationship. I went into what I would say it, a depressive stage of my life. I questioned who I was. I questioned the meaning of my life. I questioned why life turned out this way for me? I was lost and alone. I sought after comfort, but nothing seemed to be out there. I sought after more possessions, but I knew they wouldn’t satisfy me either.

The universe is so mysterious in its ways. That stage of life turned out to be the best thing that happened to me. Because of the constant incessant thoughts and questions, which led to a complete emotional meltdown, I found myself staring at the ceiling wishing that everything would just stop. I turned to meditation, breathing deeply and complete silence to calm my mind. I did that for survival. I just wanted all the pain to go away so I can feel “normal” again.

As the meditation continued, I went back to more regular practice of yoga, where I know I would find solace within myself. The more yoga I practiced, the more peace came into my life. I slowly learnt how to accept things for what they are. I slowly learnt that our outside world can never satisfy our inside world.

Three months after, I decided to let myself uncover more about this deal with yoga. As a person who just decides to do something and then do it, I actually just chanced upon Tirisula Yoga and decided to go with it without much research. I saw lots of blog posts which share each practitioners’ experience and thought the information to be intriguing, so my thoughts was like “generally I feel good about this so I’m gonna ride with it”. Now 3 weeks into the course, I can only say its an adventure of a lifetime. Every day I am learning – not just textbook knowledge, but invaluable experiences from my fellow course mates and especially from Master Sree. I feel physical fatigue during the course, but I don’t know why every morning I look forward to seeing them in class. Every day is a new experience. Master Sree doesn’t read from the manual when he teaches – he only uses 1 chalk, or 1 marker, and is able to explain deep concepts with his words and experiences! I am mind blown about that. With my coursemates, the camaraderie we share through the love of yoga is truly precious and invaluable. YTTC has opened up my eyes to how wide and broad our universe is, and what I am is really just a speck of this vast universe. Our universe is so so magnificent and beautiful. It has showed me that the insatiable thirst I had, its really just a longing to connect back to myself.

To breathe, to live, to be, in this moment is my gift. I thank the universe for its mysterious ways. There’s only more to come.

MEDITATION ON ISVARA PRNIDHANA

The essence of practicing of Isvara Pranidhana is to surrender your ego with humility and cultivating trust in the universe no matter what the circumstances. It is only by losing our made belief self that we gain our true self.

 

In meditation, we can try to use these steps:

  1. Sitting on your yoga mat in a comfortable half lotus/lotus position with back straight with eyes closed
  2. Using shunya mudra-Bend the 3rd finger and place it on the base of the thumb, press the thumb over the middle finger.

 

image credit:https://savy-international.com/yoga/hand-gestures/attachment/shunya-mudra/

 

  1. Inhale and exhale to settle your body and mind
  2. Visualise the number “0” inside myself. Or a symbol/image of higher power than yourself that you can relate to, which resonates with symbol of ishwara.
  3. Chanting the mantra A-U-M, as done below:

 The first syllable A, pronounced as a prolonged “awe.” The sound starts at the back of your throat and you stretch it out. You will start feeling your solar plexus and chest vibrating.

The second syllable U, pronounced as a prolonged “oo,” with the sound gradually rolling forward along your upper palate. You’ll feel your throat vibrate.

The third syllable M, pronounced as a prolonged “mmmm” with your front teeth gently touching. You will now start to feel the top of your mouth vibrate.

The last syllable is the deep silence of the Infinite. As intelligence rises from the deep silence, you have to merge your chant from the M to the deep silence.

Chanting this can help me physically tune in to acknowledge my connection to nature and the universe.

  1. maintain the awareness inwards on the zero. With each inhalation and exhalation, visualise “0” getting brighter and stronger, growing from the insides of your body to surrounding your body.
  2. Acknowledge the thoughts, emotions, ideas arising in the contents of your mind but do not engage.
  3. Slowly, reduce the mind-body engagement (Surrendering the ego and identity) by emptying it out with the symbol of zero-now circling you. This shifts your awareness to expand the space-time experience instead.
  4. Whenever these conscious contents arises, go back to your breath and repeat the zero technique as above
  5. Continue the session for 10 mins
  6. End the session by chanting A-U-M again
  7. Maintain silence for another 10-15 mins

 

At the end of meditation session, try to let go of all expectations. Do not harbour on what you should try to achieve or gain from this meditation experience. Surrender and trust in the universe.

 

“However, he will be least afraid of becoming nothing in death who has recognised that he is already nothing now.”- Schopenhauer