Meditation

Yoga Nidra and the Power of Intention

You’re in a Yoga Nidra class and you’re asked to set an intention . . . is your mind immediately paralyzed into a blank screen of zero inspiration?

yoga-nidra-meditation-0939-webIf you’re unable to conjure up, at the drop of an Om, a statement any more profound than, “I will remember my shoes when I leave yoga tonight”, all that’s needed is some reflection on why you do this thing called yoga.

Whether it’s for a kick-butt, sweaty, vinyasa class, or an affirmation for Yoga Nidra guided relaxation, intention has the power to transform your practice. It shines a mindful light on how you live your life; harnessing and feeding your hopes for more ease.

How to Discover Your Sankalpa

Your intention (or sankalpa, the Sanskrit word for resolve) could address your state of mind, or physical health, or a shift in your relationships — whatever could benefit from more joy. Think of it as a vow between you and the Universe.

If this has you grabbing a pen and paper and revving up the analytical, intellectual mind (because #driventogetitright), then relax a little and consider sankalpa is not about achieving goals. Avoid the temptation to use intention to fix something that is “wrong” with you.

Instead, connect with your emotions and beliefs. Your sankalpa already resides within you, as a heartfelt longing. Ask yourself some introspective questions, then dive deep into your heart space and simply pause and listen. Dwell on what may contribute to an effortless state of being.

After some reflection, form a precise sentence that helps support your heart’s wishes.

Your intention statement is:

• Positive

• Easy to remember

• Stated in the present tense, as if it were already true (even if it’s not)

For example, instead of, “I will stop being angry and impatient”, try, “I am patient and kind, with myself and others”.

Your sankalpa may be the same for several weeks or months, or it may be different on a particular day, when something else is occupying your thoughts. Sometimes, you’ll feel as if your self-inquiry has unlocked the secrets of the Universe. Other times, you’ll simply observe the intention to rest and create stillness in body and mind.

Examples of Sankalpa 

Resist the urge to nail Nirvana by throwing every possible thing into one long and complicated sentence. “I am happy and healthy, blissfully filled with contentment and joy for all the loving people and situations which I am blessed to receive with deep gratitude for my abundant and prosperous life” could get lost a little, out there in affirmation land. “I am happy” is a perfect alternative. Here are some other examples:Meditation-yoga

• My body is healthy, my mind is clear.

• My world is filled with joy and love.

• I believe in myself and that what I have to offer is of value.

• I sleep peacefully, and wake up rested and energetic.

How Intention Works

Yoga Nidra is a meditative sequence of observing and welcoming all sensations, emotions and thoughts.

This “conscious sleep” state is ideal for hearing positive messages, and altering negative habitual thought patterns. When you silently state your intention during Yoga Nidra, the subconscious mind receives it as if it were already true — even if the doubting mind doesn’t believe it.

The beauty of doing this practice regularly, and with sincerity, is that your positive statements linger in the subconscious mind, long after the guided relaxation is complete.

Yoga Nidra can truly become a gateway to positive change and personal transformation. And, it has the handy side effect of you knowing your heart’s calling, the next time someone cheerily instructs, “Now, set your intention!”.

Namaste.

[as published in Today’s Yoga Magazine]

Meditation, Yoga Philosophy

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is the new buzzword for an old tradition. It’s been revamped, repackaged, rebranded and given an extra swipe of lipstick (or dash of aftershave) as we read about how celebrities, successful business execs, and most recently, Olympic athletes, are using the magic of mindfulness, as part of their daily routine.

So, what is mindfulness, exactly?

Mindfulness is the state we are in when we are not distracted, but fully immersed in the present moment. That’s it! Nothing more complicated than that.

Most of the time, our attention is distracted by our thoughts and emotions, by our worries or anxieties about the future, or by regrets of the past. We are rarely truly connected to the present.

When we practice mindfulness, whether it’s part of a formal routine, or simply a random minute or two during a busy day, we hit the pause button and intentionally pay attention to what is happening, right now. Read that again—intentionally pay attention to what is happening, right now.

This can be really boring, when your mind would rather be distracted by something else; like when your next coffee break is, and what if you don’t get that important phone call, and why did you say that thing you said in that meeting last week, and how annoyed you will be if they’re still doing construction work on your route home … which is why mindfulness is often described as a form of mental training. It may not be complicated, but it may take discipline to adopt mindfulness habits, and to “be here, now”,  in this very moment.

Jon Kabat-Zinn’s definition of mindfulness is,

“The awareness that arises through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally”.

And I would add two important words to that—”without expectations”.  Approach mindfulness without wanting any specific results (well come on, enlightenment, hurry up already). Replace judgment or expectations with curiosity and commitment. Simply apply mindfulness techniques regularly, and over time, notice the impact that has on you.

There are a myriad ways to practice mindfulness. If you don’t know where to begin, here’s a good start: Elisha Goldstein’s “7 Things Mindful People Do Differently“.

And then, keep exploring. I find myself drawn to some mindfulness and meditation techniques more than others, and I also enjoy new approaches to these ancient techniques. With time, you will find your very own answer to the question of What is Mindfulness, as your personal practice unfolds.

what-is-mindfulness-yogaressa

To your clarity of mind and joy in your heart!

Namaste.

 

Meditation

Yoga Nidra Virgin

Yoga-Nidra-Cocoons
Yoga cocoons at Simply Yoga, Delray Beach

If you teach yoga, there’s nothing more rewarding than someone stepping onto a yoga mat for the first time. There’s also nothing more frightening — when it’s your yoga class and you’re not sure if they’re going to like it, and for a moment you question whether you should have asked/persuaded/begged/blackmailed them to try it, and you wonder if you’re going to be the one yoga teacher in the world who is responsible for Ruining Yoga Forever.

Marie Speed has enjoyed some yoga in the past, but is brand new to Yoga Nidra. This month, she was our Yoga Nidra Virgin and I’m relieved and delighted to report that not only did she not run out of the studio at the first chime of woo-woo yoga music,  leaving her shoes behind as she made a hasty exit, but it sounds like she actually enjoyed the experience. Chubby sardines and all.

Here is Marie’s hilarious read, courtesy of Boca Magazine

“So I have this pal Julie Murphy from South Africa who used to be a corporate big wig but is now this great yoga teacher who runs around India for fun and is always talking about things like “alignment” as opposed to shoe sales. For some reason she still likes to hang out with me now and then despite the fact that I long ago replaced my downward dog with a sideways slug-on-the-couch variation. So here we are walking the other day and she tells me about this new practice she has launched called Yoga Nidra which Wikipedia likes to call “yogic sleep”—an hour of lying down on a yoga mat listening to woo-woo music and Julie telling you how to be happy.

Sign me up, I said, wanting to be supportive, and there I was last Sunday, my yoga mat neatly rolled out, looking at a sea of other people hunkering down for a state of consciousness described somewhere between waking and sleeping which is pretty much how I operate anyway.

At first I was sort of alarmed; the prospect of drifting around in a semi-conscious state with a bunch of strangers …” read more …

 

Benefits of Yoga Nidra
Meditation

This May Tempt You To Try “Yogic Sleep” — The Ancient Practice of Yoga Nidra

Yoga-Nidra-class-web-6
My body sleeps, but my mind stays awake … huh? How does that work? Welcome to the paradox and the power of Yoga Nidra; exploring the state in between being asleep and being awake.

This is not pretzel yoga, or kick-butt yoga, or sweat-your-bits-off yoga … it’s Anyone-Can-Do-This yoga. You need nothing more than your desire to create a sense of calm in the body and the mind — no special skills required. In fact, the most challenging element of Yoga Nidra is often the ability to stay awake!

Yoga-Nidra-Benefits-7352So, what exactly is Yoga Nidra?

Yoga Nidra places you in a state of tranquil awareness, preparing the mind to receive positive messages, at a subconscious and emotional level. In my experience, two major things happen:

1 — Relaxation

Lying on the ground (or seated), listening to a specific system of guided relaxation, your body comes to a place of complete rest, while the mind remains alert and yet calm. Even as you enter a dream-like state of consciousness, your mind stays awake; following the verbal cues, becoming aware of sensations in the body, and using sensory perception and visualization techniques.  These methods for calming the body, the subconscious mind and the sympathetic nervous system, are extremely grounding and relaxing.

2 — Intention

This is a powerful aspect of Yoga Nidra, when you introduce your intention (or sankalpa in Sanskrit).  Here, you state your affirmation for personal transformation; your wish for what you would like to be, or have, in your life — good health, calm mind, confidence, success, a change in your relationships — whatever your heartfelt desire is. Think of your sankalpa as a vow between you and the Universe, or a higher being.

Some examples are:

  • I am happy and healthy in body, mind and spirit.
  • My dreams and aspirations become reality.
  • I breathe in calmness and breathe out peace.

Yoga Nidra creates the perfect setting for you to initiate change in your life, because it is easier to alter habits in this “conscious sleep” state than in the waking state, when we are typically more resistant to change. Although you are not trying to actively fix or change anything during the Yoga Nidra practice itself, regular repetition of positive affirmations in this state, can be transformational.


Yoga-Nidra-classIf you’d like to try Yoga Nidra, join me every month at Simply Yoga, or contact me re other Yoga Nidra events.

And for those who would like to do guided relaxation at home, I’m delighted to have just finished recording a Yoga Nidra CD, accompanied by the peaceful music of Richard Brookens, available here.

To your continued physical, mental and emotional good health!

Namaste.

Meditation, Yoga in India, YTT Yoga Teacher Training

Poop, Pray, Move [Part 2] – with apologies to Elizabeth Gilbert

PRAY …

Meditation-OmSummarizing two months of extensive yoga studies into five key areas may seem like oversimplifying things, but this simplicity helps me to maintain healthy habits back home. Part 1 covered the Poop part of Poop, Pray, Move.

Now, let’s add Pray. Our minds are engaged in an almost continuous internal dialogue, moving from one thought to the next – some 60,000 thoughts a day, apparently! Meditation allows us to focus inwardly, experience silence, and calm the turbulence of the mind. It requires an inner state that is still and single-focused, so that the mind becomes calm, no longer distracted; ultimately developing mindfulness and insight.

When we meditate, or pray, or take a moment every day to release from the relentless hamster wheel of the busy mind, we can move beyond stress-inducing thoughts and emotional upsets, and find inner peace and calm.

“Meditation is a precise technique for resting the mind and attaining a state of consciousness that is totally different from the normal waking state. It is the means for fathoming all the levels of ourselves and finally experiencing the center of consciousness within.” – Swami Rama

Jon Kabat-Zinn’s definition of meditation is “The awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally”. I would add “without expectations” to that description, Meditationsince we often find ourselves anticipating what’s meant to happen, and what makes “A Good Meditation”. Did you see swirling colors and vivid imagery of eagles and panthers? Did a powerful voice boom out at you, sharing the secrets of the Universe, echoing in the cavern of your mind?

Any meditation is a “good” meditation when you’ve taken the time to just pause for a few minutes and bring the mind to a quieter place. Let go of any expectations and allow your meditation to be exactly as it is.

(More on that later, when I’ll post some musings on meditation. It’s a hugely personal experience and I would love to hear what meditation means to you, so please do post comments below to share with others).

Meditation was part of our daily routine at Kailash Tribal School of Yoga and Holistic Healing; most of it private, some of it in a group setting, listening to the soothing tones of Yogi Sivadas’ guided meditation. Our yoga teacher training schedule kept us busy; ten hours a day, six days a week, yet all of it was calmer against a backdrop of consciously creating harmony and ease at the beginning of every day.

Back home now and in a routine that is different to the yoga school, I continue to rely on  meditation to positively influence my life.  A regular (daily) meditation practice trains the mind to be in a state of relaxed awareness, not just during the meditation, but throughout the thoughts and actions of the day. And a relaxed mind makes for a healthier body. Provided you pooped, of course.

Next up, Part 3 of this recipe for a happy, yogic life … now, if you’ll excuse me, my meditation mat is calling and I have Oms to Om and thoughts to still.

[A wee note here … if you’re seeing strange adverts (nose and ear hair trimmers) in the space below, it’s because WordPress randomly displays these ads in return for my free blog space. I don’t make money from the ads and neither do I have a choice on what appears. Perhaps over time, the hair trimmers will be replaced by yoga mats and yoga books :-). ]

Meditation, Travel, Yoga in India, YTT Yoga Teacher Training

Tushita and the Hairy Bearded Dude Meditation

I finally made it to Tushita today, a Buddhist meditation center between McLeod Ganj and Dharamkot, where you can drop in for daily morning meditation. It was our day off, so the walk through the forest with its silent, tall trees was a welcome shift from the tuk tuk, taxi and car fumes we try to avoid by breathing through a scarf as they pass.

Tushita

Silence through the forest and continued silence when I arrived at Tushita; a few people here and there, plus prerequisite monkeys and ever-present dogs. I walked into the beautiful meditation room, and had it all to myself for a little while before people arrived. Light reflected off the gold on the many peaceful Buddhas, view from the windows of the 100-feet tall pine tree sentinels, the morning noises of the birds, muted activity of the people in the kitchen below.

Tushita Meditation Room
Tushita Meditation Room

A fat, round meditation cushion with an orange centre beckoned to me as the place I needed to sit this morning, and so I did. Perfect. People started to come into the room, quietly taking their places. All ages, nationalities and types. So, out of a room full of fifty or so people, how did I manage to get the hairy, bearded dude in his dark purple dhoti as my meditation neighbour? From the moment he sat down, he was restless and agitated, fidgeting and noisily rummaging in his backpack and taking long, loud, snorts through his nose to clear his throat. Great, this is what I had to look forward to for the next 60 minutes.

Shhhh...
Shhhh…

I was furious. In ten seconds, Hairy Bearded Dude had wrecked my peace and my expectations of my long-awaited Tushita meditation morning experience. By the tenth coughing snort, I had to restrain myself from giving him a hard slap on his burgundy leg. Should I get up and move places? Oh, good, here’s the meditation lady, maybe he’ll settle down. Um, nope, not at all. Just inches away from me, every breath and movement and cough and sigh was an assault to my senses. With my eyes closed, the entire room was tranquil, except for the grunt machine to my right, ruining the tranquility. I followed the meditation guidance to notice the breath, and become aware of the air coming in and of the nostrils. Hairy Bearded Dude snorted harshly through his.

Through a veil of general disgust and irritation, I was determined to dismiss Hairy Bearded Dude from my thoughts, and keep bringing my awareness back to my meditation. I softened, breathed, focused on my breath and reeled in my monkey mind every time it leapt around like the monkeys outside. Miraculously, within a few minutes, Hairy Bearded Dude’s presence subsided and dissolved into the rest of the room and I started to feel quiet inside.

TushitaThe meditation guide’s words were ironically fitting, as she spoke about how we want everything to beautiful and perfect and how when it is not so, we reject it. How we create more suffering for ourselves when we reject reality. A suggestion instead, to rather accept everything as it comes and goes, without craving something else or grasping onto something we like. Sensible words about choosing not to react strongly to things, but to choose equanimity and balance instead. Was she reading my mind?

Everything changes, nothing is permanent – the air we breathe, the blood circulating in our veins, our cells regenerating and dying, the light outside; nothing stays the same. So, to crave something else or try and hold onto something we like, is futile.

My breath slowed, my mind quietened, the hour passed quickly and peacefully. At the end of the meditation, we were guided to send loving thoughts to those we love, with “May They Be Happy” wishes (lovingkindness meditation), and then to send the same love or compassion to people we don’t know, and finally to those we “don’t like as much”. Yes, Hairy Bearded Dude was on the receiving end of my wishes. I smiled softly as I thought of how I was drawn to sit on the cushion right next to him and how he had actually helped my meditation; by showing me I could choose to stay frustrated and angry at his presence (and increase my suffering), or just let him be, let go of my desire for the circumstances to be different, and not be affected by him.

Now for the ongoing challenge … can I repeat the same approach and bring this kind of response into my everyday life?