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.

 

Yoga Philosophy

Inaugural International Day of Yoga – What’s It All About?

June 21, 2015 marks the first ever International Day of Yoga, formally recognized by the United Nations. The day has been devoted to this ancient discipline, to highlight the benefits of yoga “for the health of the world population”.

International-Yoga-Day

Today, Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, did yoga with a crowd of over 35,000 in Delhi, and yoga events are being held in 251 cities on 6 continents.

I’ve read thatinternational_day_of_yoga 30,000 yogis and yoginis are set to do yoga asanas today in Times Square, NYC. That’s a lot of OMing, breathing and Downward Dogging!

Yoga may be an ancient tradition (over 5,000 years old), but it’s Continue reading “Inaugural International Day of Yoga – What’s It All About?”

Yoga in India, Yoga Philosophy, YTT Yoga Teacher Training

Yoga Philosophy

We’ve been diving quite deeply into the extremely broad subject of Yoga Philosophy. The mind is swirling with concepts of Vedanta, Sankhya, Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Mimamsa, Jainism, Charuvarism, Buddhism, the Vedas, and the Ashramas (four stages of life). It’s fairly heavy going, but also fascinating and rich in the history and the culture of ancient India.

Parts of the Vedanta philosophy appeal to me: focusing on the “right understanding of life”, by inquiring and understanding through direct experience, not only from prescribed texts or structured education. “When knowledge ends, intuition begins”. If we want to explore Consciousness and subtle energies, we try not to have expectations based only on the past. Instead, our minds explore intuitively in every moment, expanding our perception of reality; changing our reality by changing the way we look at the world (we’re back to the What is Elephant story again!)

BuddhaThe Buddhist Philosophy that human suffering is caused by the constant craving for things that make us happy (temporarily) and that we should systematically destroy those cravings, is challenging, but it makes sense to me.

This echoes Patanjali’s teachings that practicing detachment from desires brings us to a more peaceful state of mind. It’s not the renunciation of the desire itself – what causes suffering is the cravings for those desires and attaching to them as the only way to find happiness. The yoga Yama (observance) of Aparigraha speaks of this same non-attachment.

I’ve been trying to practice non-attachment to the lemon cheesecake apparently favoured by Richard Gere on his visit to Nick’s Restaurant in McLeod Ganj!

You can still desire gooey chocolate cake, sex, a car, a fab new handbag, a holiday, or rocking a fantastic Astavakrasana pose [insert any other experience or material item you desire here], but the key is to be detached from your desires to the point that if they remain unfulfilled, you can still be content – you are not relying on the hit of pleasure to create a contentment within. Because when we crave something as the solution to finding happiness, that joy is short-lived and then we restlessly go back to craving more pleasure again and are never satisfied. Sound familiar?

Per Yogi Sivadas: “The Yoga of Emotion is maintaining a feeling of contentment, without dependency on external things”.

Throughout our yoga philosophy studies, Yogi Sivadas constantly tells us he is not preaching about what is the right way, or the only way. He encourages us to consider what we’re taught, and question the parts that don’t make sense to us. “Yoga is about learning through experience,” he says. “When you repeat yoga concepts like a machine, you’re simply storing the information, like a computer. You should not be a hard drive.”

To make your yoga more meaningful, allow it to be a continuous adventure of researching, questioning, experimenting, observing, learning – and absorbing the messages that make most sense to you.

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

Bhakti Chanting, Sanskrit and Mythology

imageOut of the mountain of our yoga teacher training study materials, I was immediately drawn to the chanting books; Bhakti or devotional chanting, which I love. We sing the invocation to Patanjali every day, and it’s nice to begin asanas with this familiar chant that I know well from many Iyengar yoga classes at Pura Vida Yoga.

For the first week, we have an hour of chanting in the morning, sometimes accompanied by the beat of tabla drums. Our voices are all a bit rusty and querulous to begin with as we get used to the melodies, but Yogi Sivadas‘ rich, deep voice fills the sunny room and we soon let go of our shyness or self judgment as we join in with the ancient chants.

Sanskrit
My Sanskrit scribbles!

Repeated chanting improves concentration and is extremely calming, physically and mentally, as your brain focuses only on the words and the tune. Devotional chanting to the deities (and it doesn’t matter which religion or belief system you have; they’re all here, including Buddha, Moses, Jesus, Jehovah, Allah, Shiva, Ganesh, and more), when sung with intention, can create a peaceful mind. I took my blood pressure before this morning’s chanting: 199/97 with a pulse rate of 69. After an hour of chanting: 129/80 and pulse of 59.

Slightly less calming (i.e. challenging!) are our Sanskrit lessons. “Sanskrit” means well written, or purely written, and is an Indo-Persian tree of language that evolved around 30,000 years ago. We start to learn the basics of the sounds and letters – who knew there were so many ways to pronounce the sounds ‘s’ and ‘sh’! We practice lines and lines of squiggles and dots, repeating them out loud as we write.

Yogi Sivadas writes our names in Sanskrit
Yogi Sivadas writes our names in Sanskrit

Yogi Sivadas writes our names on the board in Sanskrit and they look so pretty, it encourages us to keep on squiggling. He tells us that even if we find it difficult, the very act of focusing your mind on something new in an attempt to learn something, is good exercise for the brain, and you will benefit from that, regardless of the results of the studying. And when he tells us that the Sanskrit word, “cittrashalabh” translates as “insect painting” or “insect art”, doesn’t that sound much more beautiful and poetic than the English word, butterfly?

Our daily studies are peppered with colourful analogies, as Yogi Sivadas explains some yoga philosophy concepts through yoga mythology and allegories. I am constantly reminded of how rich and mystical this culture is, making our own Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty seem dull, by comparison!