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

Journeying back to self

Yoga is leading me on the journey back to self. In this personal blog post, I will share about my journey through meditation.

“Meditation is a natural distillation of spirituality into something applicable yet powerful. There is nothing more spiritual thing you can do, than to just tether to the present moment, and just be. Be present in the moment and know that you’re right where you need to be right now, be you, be there, just be. Let go. Being you is to realize the limited self, beyond the inflated concept of identity. Harness the awareness through meditation. “- Claudia

Dhyana, the 7th limb of yoga, what we call meditation – is building upon asana (physical posture), pranayama (breath control), pratyahara (control of the senses, moving the focus to the inside), and dharana (concentration). Dhyana involves concentration and meditation on a point of focus with the intention of knowing the truth about it. This deeper concentration of the mind is the instrument of self-knowledge where one can separate illusion from reality, and eventually, reach the ultimate goal of yoga: samadhi (bliss, or union with the source).

My meditative journey had shown me that we can create space within ourselves, just in quietness. We do not even need to sit to meditate – It is not about postures, not even a set of mental exercises. We create space within ourselves by stopping and blocking incessant and (mostly unnecessary) thoughts. Most thoughts in our head isn’t ours anyways, but what our world want us to think. With meditation, the space allows us to empty our mind, like hitting a reset button. Thoughts are just thoughts. We are not our thoughts. We need not identify with our thoughts.

Through meditation and an enhanced awareness of self and existence, I am learning that I am not my thoughts, neither am I the body. I enjoy meditation very much, it grounds me back to the awareness of The Moment I am in. When I’m at that state of awareness, I remember how we are all traveling through space on the same planet, we all are part of the same life. I am so much more at peace with the individual that I am now through regular meditation practice. I observed that my mind, body and spirit takes a shift towards seeking internal happiness, instead of consistently looking for external stimuli to “awaken my sense”. While there is nothing negative about garnering positive feelings from external avenues, I realized they no longer hold as much weight and significance as they once did. I feel happiness, a profound sense of gratitude, from within through meditation.

We no longer need something external to make us happy; we can just be, just be who we are.

I don’t have the knowledge nor experience to teach anybody meditation and I believe each individual’s meditation practice/experience is unique. However I find it useful to share with my fellow readers and practitioners on my meditation routine, should there be anyone who wants to give it a try and havent done so:
Upon awakening from sleep, before checking phone for notifications, sit on floor with crossed legs (as long as you’re comfortable), place both palms facing up in Gyan Mudra, breathe deeply. Dilute your mind for 10-15mins before starting the day!

Some infomation on Gyan Mudra –

It is a sacred hand gesture or ‘seal’ used to direct energy and maintain focus. Gyan mudra is one of the most important and well known mudras, found across Buddhist, Hindu and Yoga traditions alike. Gyan is Sanskrit for ‘knowledge’ or ‘wisdom,’ and so this gesture is sometimes referred to as the Mudra of Knowledge.

Gyan mudra is traditionally practiced whilst in seated meditation, although some modern day practitioners are known to use it whilst holding standing asana (postures), such as utthita parsvakonasana (Extended Side Angle Pose). To perform this mudra, bring the tip of the thumb and index finger together on both hands, forming a circle. Keep the remaining three fingers outstretched with the palm facing upward.

Gyan mudra is also referred to as chin mudra, cin mudra, and gyana mudra. It is primarily used to promote and maintain stability during meditation practices. As a practitioner holds seated meditation postures, such as padmasana (Lotus Pose) or sukhasana (Easy Pose), their hands form gyan mudra whilst resting on their knees. This creates an energetic seal, encouraging a healthy flow of prana (vital life force) and a balanced internal energy throughout the practice. Gyan mudra can be combined with pranayama breathing techniques. Practicing this Mudra helps us to focus on attaining true knowledge and wisdom. Particularly when held during meditation, this mudra can help to increase mental strength, sharpen concentration and improve focus.

Specific benefits of Gyan Mudra include:
Stimulates the Root Chakra (Svadhisthana) and is therefore very grounding
• Beneficial for those suffering with insomnia and mental disorders like depression, anxiety and excessive anger
• Helps energize the neurons in the brain for instant action
• Stimulates the centers of the pituitary and endocrine glands

Other than these information, I also want to add on that my personal fave is this Mudra as it immediately focuses my mind into the meditative state.

A little science behind Meditation…..

Needless to say, meditation does have scientifically backed up benefits to the physical body: Harvard neuroscientist Sara Lazar gives an introduction to how meditation affects the brain. She explains how four regions of meditators’ brains associated with healthy brain function become more substantial, while one of the areas associated with undesirable behavior actually shrinks. They are:

  1. Left Hippocampus – This is the area in the brain that helps us learn. The tools that we use for cognitive ability and memory are found here, as are emotional regulators associated with self-awareness and empathy. Research confirms that as the cortical thickness of the hippocampus grows in volume through meditation, gray-matter density increases and all of these important functions are nurtured.
  2. Posterior Cingulate – The posterior cingulate is connected with wandering thoughts and self-relevance – that is, the degree of subjectivity and referral to oneself when processing information. It seems that the larger and stronger the posterior cingulate, the less the mind wanders and the more realistic the sense of self can be. Two of the vitally important effects that meditation has on the mind are the ability to remain attuned to the present moment without judgment, regret or anticipation; and the ability to observe sensations and emotions that arise in the mindstream without necessarily identifying with them. Meditation seems to increase the density of the posterior cingulate.

  3. Pons – This is a very busy and important part of the brain where many of the neurotransmitters that help regulate brain activity are produced. Located in the middle of the brain stem, its name, pons, comes from the Latin for “bridge.” The pons is involved in a great number of essential functions, including sleep, facial expressions, processing sensory input, and basic physical functioning. Meditation strengthens the pons.

  4. The Temporo Parietal Junction (TPJ) – We like to think that we’re good people – empathetic, humane and just. Empathy and compassion are associated with the temporoparietal junction of the brain, or TPJ, as is our sense of perspective. The TPJ becomes more active when we put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, for example. A stronger TPJ—combined with other benefits of meditation like lower stress and present moment awareness—can help us be the good people we aspire to become.

  5. Amygdala – There is another area of the brain that is changed through meditation: the amygdala. But it doesn’t get larger; it shrinks. The amygdala—that pesky corner of the brain that produces feelings of anxiety, fear and general stress—is physically smaller in the brains of expert meditators. The smaller it is, the less apt it is to dictate our emotional responses, especially those of the “fight-or-flight” genre.

No wonder we feel so great when a daily meditation regimen is incorporated into our lives!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meditate in a scented world

About 2 years ago, I went for an Aromatherapy Yoga class as I was curious about what I could learn from the class. It was a 1-hour class, where students lie in Shavasana pose, with warm bean bags doused with lavender placed on our eyes. The smell of lavender calmed us and we listened to the teacher’s voice while drifting in and out of consciousness, in between the state of sleeping and awake. Halfway I fell asleep fully and when I woke up, I couldn’t hear the teacher talking anymore. Panicking, I thought the class went on without me and so I sat up, removing the beanbag only to realise that the entire class was still in Shavasana and the teacher was staring at me. I couldn’t go back to the meditative state I was in after that and so I waited for the entire class to end, which eventually did after what felt like an eternity. Back then, I didn’t know what Yoga Nidra classes were and I thought it was a strange but calming class. I only found out a few months later that the class was a Yoga Nidra class, coupled with aromatherapy to help you relax in a meditative state. So this makes me wonder, how does aromatherapy help with meditation?

 

What is Meditation and Aromatherapy?

Meditation is defined as an action of meditating; the practice of contemplation and reflection. It is entering a state where your thoughts are not wandering, your mind is silent and every experience encountered is a new one. A way to enhance your meditation practice is through the use of essential oils in aromatherapy, which helps to ground and centre you as you focus on the smell, bringing yourself to the present.

Aromatherapy is a holistic treatment that uses natural plant extracts i.e. essential oils to promote health. Aromatherapy works through the sense of smell and skin absorption. Each essential oil has their unique healing properties, uses and effects and when you combine essential oils, it creates a blend that brings about more benefits.

 

Benefits of Aromatherapy

  1. Clears the mind and increases focus
  2. Reduces stress and anxiety
  3. Improves sleep quality
  4. Treat headaches and migraines
  5. Soothe muscle aches and sore joints
  6. Improve digestion
  7. Reduces negative self-talk and encourage feelings of positivity and optimism

 

How does this happens? 

As we breathe in the scent of essential oils in Aromatherapy, the smell receptors in our nose are stimulated, which sends messages through the nervous system to the limbic system, which is part of the brain that controls emotions. The scent also stimulates our central nervous system, which transmits signals to our glands and muscles, soothing our nerves and helping us to relax.

 

How to use Aromatherapy in Meditation

  • Diffusers or room sprays

Diffusers and room sprays are simply ways of using essential oils as it refreshes the air and creates a soothing atmosphere, ready for meditation. Dilute the essential oils with a carrier oil like grapeseed oil before adding it to the diffuser or room spray to create the aromatic experience, to calm you down and help you stay focused on relaxing during meditation.

  • Burning incense stick or candles

Sometimes, candles and incense sticks do the trick as well. Simply burn the candle or incense stick and leave it lighted throughout your practice. The smell will disperse in the air and creates a nicely scented, comfortable and restorative environment for your practice. 

  • Topical Application

Another simple way would be through utilising roll-ons, by applying them directly to the body to enhance the meditative experience. I have a Lavender essential roll-on gifted from a friend. The essential oil is already diluted which makes it safe to apply directly to the body. I apply them on pulse points like my wrists and temples, behind the ears and the base of the throat. As you inhale, the scent fills your nose, making you feel comfortable and relaxed.

 

Side Effects of Essential Oils

Essential oils should only be for external use, pregnant or nursing women should check in with their doctors if it is safe for them to use essential oils. Essential oils may cause side effects such as rashes, redness, burning on skin, headache, dizziness or nausea, therefore it is important to ensure that you have consulted a medical professional before you start using essential oils in your practice.

 

Popular types of essential oils for meditation

There are so many essential oils out there, having attended a DIY essential oil making workshop, I will share about some of the essential oils that I like.

  • Lavender

This is one of my favourite scents! Lavender comes from the plant Lavandula Angustifolia and this oil is known for its calming properties as it promotes relaxation through the release of anxiety, sadness and negative sentiments. With its fresh and floral smell, it promotes sleep quality and helps to enhance focus as well as encourages one to have compassion and gentleness towards others.

  • Sandalwood

Sandalwood oil comes from the wood and roots of Santalum album, an East Indian sandalwood tree. Sandalwood has a woodsy and warm note, which calms and soothes frayed emotions. It is used to enhance the heart chakra, to inspire emotional openness and cleanse the mind of negative thoughts and sentiments that may cloud mental clarity.

  • Peppermint

Peppermint oil is extracted from the leaves of the peppermint plant. With the clean, cool, minty, refreshing smell, it clears the nasal passageway, relieving congestion and helping us to breath easily. It reduces nervous feelings and boosts energy, enhancing mental focus. The scent of oil also relieves headaches, suppresses appetite and reduces nausea. 1-2 drops of peppermint oil is sufficient as the scent can be overpowering.

 

The Meditation Process

  1. Create a comfortable and quiet ambience for meditation.
    • Dim the lights and play calming music or a meditation soundtrack.
    •  Select your favourite scent and use it in the diffuser / candle / incense stick / roll-on form. 
  2. Come into a comfortable sitting or lying down position.
    • For those who are sitting and are using burning candles or incense sticks, you have the option of watching the trails of smoke curling and wafting into the air. Focus on the smoke, be immersed in the smoke patterns and let it take you along as it dances in the air. Thoughts may enter your head because the mind is always moving, however, concentrate on the smoke and stay in the present moment, allowing the thoughts to dance away with the trailing smoke in the air. 
    • For those who are lying down or using roll-ons, close your eyes and listen to the calming music, inhaling the scent of the essential oil around you. Feel yourself relax and allow the thoughts to fade away as the dim lights, music and smell bring you deeper into the mat.

The main idea of meditation is to stay focused in the present moment, to let your mind quieten down and to feel at peace with yourself. However this is often easier said than done, so whenever you notice your thoughts creeping in, allow them in but do not deepen the thoughts. Slowly let them go and redirect the focus to the present, on your breath and let the scent help you relax further. Share with me your recommendations on other essential oils that smell good and have a lot of benefits, I love to try them. Sending you peace and light. (:

Mental Health & Yoga Nidra

Mental health is an issue that until recently has not been discussed much. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood. Having good mental health doesn’t necessarily mean the absence of a mental disorder, it means having a positive mental characteristic. However with the hustle and bustle of work and life, sometimes finding a moment to ourselves for relaxation is difficult. And that’s where an individual’s mental health might be compromised. Therefore, we should practice relaxation techniques to fortify our minds.

Yoga Nidra is a method that brings the body into a profound state of relaxation. Yoga nidra, or yogic sleep, can be defined as sleep with a trace of awareness – an altered state of consciousness. It is an ancient technique used to reset the nervous system. There are millions of benefits of Yoga Nidra, including but not limited to reduced stress, anxiety, processing of traumas and mental clarity.

A study was conducted on a sample group of students aged between 20-30 years old to analyse Yoga Nidra’s effect on stress and anxiety. The students practiced daily for 3o mins. At the end of 6 months, the students felt more aware of the inherent potentialities of stress as they were more in-tune with their body and mind. All of them showed a positive change in relation to their stress and anxiety levels at the end of the study.

How is Yoga Nidra practiced?

Yoga Nidra is practiced in a flat lying position of savasana and follows the spoken instructions of a yoga instructor. The duration of Yoga Nidra can be as short as 5 mins or as long as an hour. Incorporating Yoga Nidra into a bedtime routine is the easiest. There is no way anyone can do Yoga Nidra wrongly. All you need is your body, and a safe place to feel completely with yourself and relaxed.

With that, here’s a Yoga Nidra video to start your relaxation journey

Meditation and some of it’s benefits.

What is meditation? Meditation is the process of observing the mind. Meditation doesn’t mean that one shouldn’t be thinking anything but rather observing the mind as it wanders and traversing it gently back to the breath or to the area of focus and eventually quiets the mind. Meditation is observing the thoughts without judgment and eventually better understand them. Meditation can be defined as a set of techniques that are intended to encourage a heightened state of awareness and focused attention.

Nowadays, more and more people are into meditation and attesting that it really has done something good for them may it be making them more focus, more calm, more grounded, more wisdom among others. Since meditation has become more popular so studies about it have also been conducted to know more what really are the effects and benefits of meditation. Numerous studies have been conducted over the past years and have shown different benefits of meditation practice. The practice appears to have an amazing variety of neurological benefits. Below are some amazing benefits of meditation:

Meditation Helps Preserve the Aging Brain

A study from UCLA found that long-term meditators had better-preserved brains than non-meditators as they aged. Participants who’d been meditating for an average of 20 years had more grey matter (handles things like processing and other cognitive functions) volume throughout the brain — although older meditators still had some volume loss compared to younger meditators, it wasn’t as pronounced as the non-meditators.

Meditation Reduces Activity in the Brain’s “Me Center”

Study at Yale University found that mindfulness meditation decreases activity in the default mode network (DMN), the brain network responsible for mind-wandering and self-referential thoughts – a.k.a., “monkey mind.” The DMN is “on” or active when we’re not thinking about anything in particular, when our minds are just wandering from thought to thought. Since mind-wandering is typically associated with being less happy, ruminating, and worrying about the past and future, it’s the goal for many people to dial it down.

Meditation is good for Depression and Anxiety

A study at Johns Hopkins looked at the relationship between mindfulness meditation and its ability to reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety, and pain. Researcher Madhav Goyal and his team found that the effect size of meditation was moderate, at 0.3. If this sounds low, keep in mind that the effect size for antidepressants is also 0.3, which makes the effect of meditation sound pretty good. Meditation is, after all an active form of brain training. “A lot of people have this idea that meditation means sitting down and doing nothing,” says Goyal. “But that’s not true. Meditation is an active training of the mind to increase awareness, and different meditation programs approach this in different ways.” Meditation isn’t a magic bullet for depression, as no treatment is, but it’s one of the tools that may help manage symptoms.

Meditation May Lead to Volume Changes in Key Areas of the Brain

A Harvard University team found that mindfulness meditation can actually change the structure of the brain: Eight weeks of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) was found to increase cortical thickness in the hippocampus, which governs learning and memory, and in certain areas of the brain that play roles in emotion regulation and self-referential processing. There were also decreases in brain cell volume in the amygdala, which is responsible for fear, anxiety, and stress – and these changes matched the participants’ self-reports of their stress levels, indicating that meditation not only changes the brain, but it changes our subjective perception and feelings as well.

Meditation Improves Concentration and Attention

One recent study found that just a couple of weeks of meditation training helped people’s focus and memory during the verbal reasoning section of the GRE. In fact, the increase in score was equivalent to 16 percentile points, which is nothing to sneeze at. Since the strong focus of attention (on an object, idea, or activity) is one of the central aims of meditation, it’s not so surprising that meditation should help people’s cognitive skills on the job.

Meditation Can Help with Addiction

One study for example, pitted mindfulness training against the American Lung Association’s freedom from smoking (FFS) program, and found that people who learned mindfulness were many times more likely to have quit smoking by the end of the training, and at 17 weeks follow-up, than those in the conventional treatment. This may be because meditation helps people “decouple” the state of craving from the act of smoking, so the one doesn’t always have to lead to the other, but rather you fully experience and ride out the “wave” of craving, until it passes.

In conclusion, living amidst this chaotic world, it’s necessary and it’s one’s responsibility to find balance, harmony and clear our minds from all these negativities around and meditation might be one of the actions we can let ourselves embrace into to live a more blissful and contented life and to respond better to life’s adversities by knowing ourselves within that is understanding our being and our very existence in this universe.

How Scents Can Influence Our Yoga Practice and Mood

For centirues people have been using all kinds of scents in various forms to influence the mind and body. Almost every spiritual path includes the burning of incenses for different rituals: there are scents to cleanse the surroundings, to calm down, to attract money and luck, etc. From the modern scientific point of view we know that scents not only cleanse the air of bacteria, but the air actually becomes charged with negative ions that refresh and renew both our environment and bodies.

The science known to us as “Aromatherapy” is believed to be at least 6,000 years old. Burning of incense and the application of sacred attar oils can be called the oldest forms of it that still present as well as modern forms like diffusing essential oils or applying perfume. The science of Aromatherapy confirms that scent, whether inhaled or applied topically, exerts dramatic effects on our minds and bodies. So how does it work?

Brainwaves Frequency

It is well known that the brain is an electrochemical organ. Electrical activity emanating from the brain is displayed in the form of brainwaves.

Our brain can work in 5 main frequencies that are in constant motion:

  • Beta (14 – 30 cycles per second) – strongly engaged mind;
  • Alpha (7 – 14 cycles per second) – detached consciousness, relaxation and meditation, the bridge between Beta and Theta;
  • Theta (4 – 8 cycles per second) – the first stage at which we begin to dream while we sleep, state of daydreaming; it is considered a powerful, almost magical state of mind in which people can literally walk on hot coals without getting burned, or are able to heal their bodies;
  • Delta (0 – 4 cycles per second) – deep sleep;
  • Gamma (25 – 100 cycles per second) – peak concentration and high levels of cognitive functioning.

 

It is believed that when we are in the Gamma state, which is the state of deep meditation, we experience the most favorable brainwaves for mind and body healing.  Scientists have discovered that time spent in meditation helps to significantly release stress and anxiety and clarify the mind. What’s wonderful is that this mindfulness stays even for days after meditation session has finished. Brain hemispheres become more synchronized and function more efficiently which leads to creative thinking and enhancement of imagination. Due to the release of endorphins the state of Gamma fields can be called the state of bliss.

So what about the scent? Every smell we feel goes to our brain and “talks” to it in a certain way. Studies show that particular scents stimulate particular brainwaves more than others.

For example:

  • Alpha brain waves are stimulated by the scent of lavender;
  • Beta brain waves are increased by jasmine, resulting in a relaxed, yet alert and clear state of mind;
  • Theta and Gammas brain waves arouse in response to patchouli, musk, sandalwood, which makes them ideal aromas to use when meditating;

 

 

Frankincense, cedarwood, and palo santo are also fragrances that have been used for centuries in spiritual and religious pursuits. Of course, the ancient practitioners didn’t have any scientific basis and just picked the most appealing species, but they really worked. The same way as sick animals know what plant can cure them, we can feel which scent will be favorable for us so there’s actually no need to be a scientist. The fragrance that is the most pleasing to you is guaranteed to enhance your meditation or spiritual practice simply by putting you in a positive frame of mind.

 

 

Natural only!

Scientists have proven that in order scents have effect on our minds and bodies they must be 100% natural. Synthetic scents contain chemical structures that simply do not fit into our cell receptors so they can never produce the same effect that natural ones. Of our five senses it is only smell that links directly to the limbic system. Therefore, natural fragrances can do miracles over our bodies as the limbic system is directly connected to the parts of the brain that control heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, stress levels, and hormone balance in addition to memory.

Even if the person cannot feel the odor due to some health issues, aromatherapy will still work as the natural constituents will be inhaled and influence the brain.

Different Forms

Modern market provides different options for scent spreading and it’s often easy to get lost in the variety. Here’s a short guide how to choose the perfect form for you.

  • Incense sticks and cones are made from a variety of combustible substances that give off a fragrant scent when burned. The word “incense” is actually derived from the Latin word for “to burn”. This form gives a quick boost of fragrance making it the ideal choice when you don’t have a lot of time. Incense sticks generally burn for less than an hour and the fragrance and scent throw can be quite strong.

Pros:

  • Give fast fragrance boost
  • Give stronger scent

 

Cons:

  • Mess made by falling ash
  • Danger of burning
  • According to several researches burning incense may cause lung problems when used regularly

 

Recommendation: if you want to find natural incense stick of a good quality keep in mind it shouldn’t produce any smell until it’s lit. Before buying a pack of sticks sniff them and if they exude a powerful aroma don’t pick them, there’s nothing natural.

 

  • Scented candles are made from a combination of wax and scent oil, that when lit, diffuse aromas into the air.

Pros:

  • Not only give he scent but also cast a warm glow creating cosy atmosphere in the room
  • Due to combination with the wax the smell is more complex

 

Cons:

  • It takes about an hour for the scent to fill the space, moreover short burns considerably cut down the life of a candle
  • Again – better don’t leave them unattended

 

  • Reed diffusers come with three main parts; the fragrance oil, the vessel and the reeds or sticks. The sticks are made out of porous types of wood, they absorb the fragrance oil and gently diffuse it into the surrounding air, giving off a continuous stream of scent until all of the oil has dissipated.

 

Pros:

  • Give contineous long-lasting scent
  • Flameless, so no need to worry
  • You can place them even in the most distant corner of the premises

 

Cons:

  • Not suitable when you need a quick aromatic boost
  • You can get tired of the same smell every day.

 

 

  • Oil diffusers are maybe the newest scent devices on the market. Oil diffuser breaks essential oils down into smaller molecules, dispersing them into the air.

 

Pros:

  • Flameless
  • Provide fast boost of scent
  • Usually have beautiful design
  • You can combine different oils to create a unique scent of your own

 

Cons:

  • water diffuser can harbor bacteria in the liquid if it’s left sitting, which can cause health problems the next time you turn it on, so regular cleaning is needed
  • essential oils can be pricey

What Oils Are the Best For Yoga Practice

  1. Frankincense Oil – provides relaxing effect, ideal for meditation; has a very neutral smell that almost everybody will like.
  2. Sandalwood Oil – similar to Frankincense: very good for relaxation and meditative purposes; one of the best oils for focus and concentration. It reduces cortisol level, so can be used in the evening to calm down after stressful day.
  3. Rose Oil – promotes self-confidence, ideal to use in the morning.
  4. Orange Oil – activates the endorphin centers of the brain, so promotes good mood, boosts concentration and focus.
  5. Lemon Oil – has similar properties with the orange oil but a bit quieter smell; boosts energy and improves self-esteem.
  6. Lavender Oil – the most popular relaxing oil, creates peaceful environment and slows down the mind.
  7. Ylang-Ylang Oil – alleviates negative emotions and releases tension, boosts flexibility and relaxex.
  8. Peppermint Oil – improves breathing, alleviates respiratory problems.
  9. Clary Sage Oil – relaxes the mind, increases inner peace.
  10. Cedarwood Oil – a very natural smell that creates atmosphere of the forest.

 

 

The world of scents is vast and it’s only you who knows what smell will pull the strings of your soul right and when it’s better for you to use it. The only thing to remember – it should be natural and you should truly like it. Feel free experimenting and enjoy your journey!

Should you meditate?

meditate

/ˈmɛdɪteɪt/

verb

  1. focus one’s mind for a period of time, in silence or with the aid of chanting, for religious or spiritual purposes or as a method of relaxation.

 

 

Are you happy? Where do you derive happiness from? In this COVID-19 situation with a lot of negative news around the world, I actually don’t find myself smiling/laughing as much as before (it also doesn’t help that I’m partly separated from my family by the borders). 

 

Recently I watched a TED talk by Matt Killingsworth who did a study on people’s happiness moment-to-moment. Shall not dwell into the details, if you’re interested you can watch the entire video in this linkAnyway, the result of the study showed that people who are focusing on their task are generally happier and mind wandering is likely a cause of unhappiness. And it also suggests that people mind-wander at least 30% of the time. 

 

Let’s do some self reflection here, how many times in a day are we actually single-mindedly focused on our task at hand? I’ve got to admit that I’m guilty of overloading my brain and mind, I even find it hard to watch a YouTube video by itself, there is always a window to play Tetris beside the YouTube video. Especially since this COVID-19 outbreak, working from home has introduced a lot more distractions. How many of us let our minds wander during a telcon, thinking about what to eat for lunch/dinner; thinking about that laundry that has yet to be done; thinking about when we can get to travel again? 

 

I might have wandered off, but we’re going to talk about meditation real soon. In a research that was conducted on 48 undergraduate students who were split into nutrition class and a mindfulness class (which consisted of focused-attention meditation and 10min of daily meditation outside of class) over a 2-week span. Results showed significant improvement in the working memory capacity of students who were in the mindfulness class.

The graphs show results for working memory capacity as a function of condition and testing session.

 

In both the probe-caught task-unrelated thoughts (TUTs) and self-reported TUTs, students in the mindfulness class showed a reduction in mind-wandering after 2 weeks.

The graph show results for self-reported task-unrelated thoughts as a function of condition and testing session.

 

Before I go into the scientific explanation as to why the results are this way, would like to talk a bit about meditation and what it is. The 6th limb of yoga is Dharana, defined as “The mind thinks about one object and avoids other thoughts; awareness of the object is still interrupted.” (Maehle (2006: p. 234)). This is the pre-step before meditation, Dhyana, the 7th limb of yoga. In layman terms, meditation technically asks for the mind to be blank without any outstanding thoughts, not even one. 

 

Students in the above mentioned research are introduced to Dharana, where the mind is trained to concentrate and focus on only one thought, which could be the breathing. Like how athletes train to improve their performances; how we run to improve our stamina, we can also train our minds to concentrate. This is what meditation is about. We let go of the distractions in the world and learn to control our mind. We can concentrate on that one item we set our minds to without it wandering off thinking about what to eat next. 

 

If you’re just like me who struggles to maintain focus, there is good evidence (scientifically backed if you’re science-driven) pointing to meditation as a method to dampen distracting thoughts and reduce mind-wandering. I have been very long-winded, but to answer the question of whether to meditate, my answer is yes. 

 

P.S: Besides the points that I’ve presented above, there were also studies relating better working memory capacity to improvements in IQ. So, if you’d like to be happy and improve your IQ, I suggest you start meditating today! 

Meditation and its importance in 21st century

Most of us have heard about the history of evolution. Charles Darwin had proposed the theory of biological evolution by natural selection. According to his theory, only the species fit physically for the environment had survived. This was true a few centuries ago.

In this modern day with all these advancements in medicine, do you think humans are evolving physically? Maybe very slow mutation in physical aspect is happening. In actual, there is no need for natural selection anymore to survive because human has made modern day living very easy with innovative technologies at least in urban cities.

As long as human species exist, there will be evolution in certain ways. Maybe mental evolution! We can see that in Singapore education system. GEP (Gifted Education Programme) and students are being banded based on their academic results are a few examples of how weightage is based on IQ (Intelligent Quotient). This is the point where there is a survival of the intelligent beings would be the fittest in the society. Intellectual growth is given more importance than ever before. It is growing exponentially.

Life in cities is not about hunting for prey but instead hunting for good jobs that makes us keep going. Studies have shown that there is more and more increase in intelligent and creative people. But the available jobs are not enough to recruit all those people, instead it leads to fierce competition to be the best. This has led to an evolutionary pressure in our mental well-being.

Having higher IQ (Intelligence Quotient) alone is not enough because EQ (Emotional Quotient) is equally important for a person to be sane. There are a number of successful people like Oprah Winfrey practices meditation. Meditation can be practiced by everyone that will have only good side effects. There are a number of drugs that will give us bliss states but those substances affect our nervous system and important organs in our body in a bad way.

There are a number of evidences that has shown that meditation has proved to have health benefits mentally and physically as well. It would be great if people especially who are living in urban cities take meditation practice as everyday norm just like we scroll our social media without fail. Some of the benefits we get by practicing meditation are:

 

  1. Increase in sense of self-worth (which can be received by internal force instead of weighing our self-worth based on the likes and comments given by external force).
  2. We become non-judgemental to the extent that we forgive the people who has done wrong to us.
  3. Fear will slowly disappear and we set ourselves to go with the flow instead of trying to change the circumstances that we have no control on.
  4. We pay attention and be alert with increased memory.
  5. Keep our stress levels on check and increases our immune system.
  6. We get control over impulsive behaviour and instead make decisions calmly.
  7. We become one with universe and attain a sense of meaning in our daily life.
  8. We understand other people’s patterns and become sensitive to our surroundings.
  9. It helps us to restore our sense of wonder just like a toddler would have.
  10. We can recognise our addictive behaviour and get a control over it.

Well, these are only a few benefits that research has shown so far by practicing meditation on a regular basis. We need not complicate ourselves by thinking we should do meditation for one hour every day. Just by practicing 20 mins meditation, we do get enough benefits to start with.

 

 

Meditation is for everyone regardless of gender, ethnicity, age, occupation and location. There are a number of techniques to do meditation. We can try and see which way suits us the best. Happy meditating to all!

Kriya Yoga and its relation to Kapalabhati

Kriya yoga is an ancient type of meditation technique often referred to as the “Yoga of Action or Awareness”, that when practiced smart, accelerates one’s spiritual progress. The book titled “Autobiography of a Yogi” by Paramahansa Yogananda is known as one of the modern founders of Kriya yoga which was later introduced as a practice in the West in the 1920s. The practice of Kriya yoga is taught only through a guru-disciple relationship and after an initiation ceremony, most practitioners of meditation spend time in self-study and practice until they are ready to be further initiated into the advanced practices of Kriya yoga. Beginning meditators are advised to use a mantra or word in order to focus their attention and progress into deeper meditation sessions.

Kapalabhati also known as “the skull shining breath” is a pranayama or breathing technique that purifies the front region of the brain and cleanses the respiratory system and nasal passage. It is an intermediate-to-advanced pranayama that consists of short, powerful exhales and passive inhales. This exercise is a traditional internal purification practice, or kriya, that tones and cleanses the respiratory system by encouraging the release of toxins and waste matter. It acts as a tonic for the system, refreshing and rejuvenating the body and mind.

Kapalabhati is invigorating and warming and it helps to cleanse the lungs, sinuses, and respiratory system, which can help to prevent illness and allergies so regular practice strengthens the diaphragm and abdominal muscles and increases your body’s oxygen supply, which stimulates and energizes the brain while preparing it for meditation and work that requires high focus.

However, it is important to avoid Kapalabhati if you are currently having high blood pressure, heart disease, or hernia. Women who are pregnant should also avoid practicing this exercise, as well. But as with all breathing exercises, it is important to always approach the practice with caution, especially if you have a respiratory condition, such as asthma or emphysema so never attempt any pranayama for the first time without the guidance of a qualified and knowledgeable teacher and always work within your own range of limits and abilities.

When practiced correctly, Kapalabhati Pranayama will cleanse, energize, and invigorate your mind, body, and spirit. This pranayama requires knowledge of and experience with basic breathing exercises. So if you are new to pranayama, allow yourself time to get acquainted with and proficient at Three-Part Breath (Dirga Pranayama) and Ocean Breath (Ujjayi Pranayama) before introducing Kapalabhati into your practice.