Letting your practice grow.

In my own practice, I can have the same routine for a while then suddenly one day my body will start wanting to do something new. When this happens, I experiment with new flows and poses. This usually leads to an expansion in my routine of some sort. The expansion isn’t always huge or drastic. Often, in fact, it is a small tweak, a simple optimization, that connects two different flows together in an intuitive way. Often, a new pose that I have been doing independent of my daily routine will suddenly find its way into my flow.

Whatever it is let it happen. There will come a point when your routine will want to expand. It will probably surprise you how it happens, but it is important that you listen to your body so the transition happens smoothly and intuitively. It is exciting in this sense; you don’t expect change to happen, but it does. The change leads to a more complete practice in a sense.  The change is tailored to your personal needs. Don’t resist the expansion. Listen and flow with it.

Listening to your body is an art.

In order to feel the body’s needs it is required that you to listen on a deep level. I don’t mean that you execute every desire as it comes up. This would waste a lot of energy. Instead you start listening to what the body is telling you. Sensing the body’s true needs requires that you have an understanding of how it works and that you have the discernment between true needs and wants.

As you start listening, you may not have much of an idea of what your body really needs. Stay tuned into the breath and seek to flow naturally and you will start to recognize its rhythms. This very closely linked with allowing the breath to guide the practice. The body and breath are very closely linked and listening to can help lead to the other.

The mind should not lead the practice.

Yoga is about being quiet and focused: physically and mentally. Yoga quiets the mind so the body and breath can flow naturally. The mind would like to put the breath, body and practice into a box and have it be like a workout. This isn’t yoga. It is good to have a general structure around yoga such as doing yoga for 45 minutes or doing 10 sun salutations. But don’t let the mind direct your practice.

The goal is to flow naturally and intuitively from pose to pose, while letting the breath and body guide the practice. Let the body be a boat and the breath the captain, and the mind be the ocean. Sometimes the seas are rough, and sometimes they are calm. No matter what, though, the captain should be calm and easy and while the boat remains strong and steady.

Yoga brings you in towards your center, in towards yourself, so you can pursue your true desires and wishes. Yoga is great for the physical body, but it is more about the mind, the breath, and the energy field of your body. Yoga brings you into your body’s core and, at its highest state, unites you with the world.

There is no separation of internal and external in the highest state of yoga. Yoga means Union. Union of yourself and the world. Union of opposites.  Whichever way you phrase it, yoga leads to a more unified state of being. A state in which you recognize that the external world is a direct reflection of your internal state of being.

Beginners Guide To Meditation

People often ask “Why should I meditate?” or “What is meditation?” The simplest and most direct answer is this, meditation is a systematic process of self development that begins with calming and focusing the mind. How much better would your life be if you could control what thoughts were held in your mind?

Focus, concentration, attention and memory are the qualities by which you can gauge how “in-shape” your mind is. The derivative benefits of keeping the mind trained is a natural state of peace and balance. Events and situations arise and you handle them. You just play with the forms that arise in your life.

Abiding in this peaceful state during your daily activities is a simple way to go about life. It isn’t a cake walk though, our focus is constantly tested. No matter where you are, your focus is under constant attack from almost all sides.

There are whole philosophical and practical guides dedicated to this fine line of intense focus. The process of watching in a dispassionate, distant way to the thoughts and sensations that arise in you is the core of these various schools of though. Zen is walking the razor edge of the present moment with no thought of future or past, just intense focus on the present moment.

This is the goal, this is also the practice. Most meditations are based on breath awareness. Breath is used because it is always happens now, no matter where you’re at!

“You can’t breathe in the future or in the past.”

That is the basic practice of meditation, staying with the breath as it arises and falls away. In this way we become comfortable with being present with our breath, then after being anchored in the present we naturally become present with each situation as it arises.

So how to begin

Here is the key, the one thing that is going to determine if you are going to succeed at your practice or not. Taking the time to sit and breathe. In other words, actually doing it. It really is that easy. Meditation isn’t something you can think about and get benefits from, you actually have to sit down for a good 10-15 minutes to get benefits.

Obvious enough I know, but at every stage of meditation there comes a point where if the meditation practice gets lax, if you start slacking on your sitting time, then progress stops. Then, you can start to back slide.

The Practice

Our goal is to sit twice a day focusing solely on our breath, the inhale and exhale. Pick a comfortable seated position, it can be in a chair or the floor. Close your eyes, relax the body and focus on the inhale and exhale for 15 minutes. As thoughts arise, and you notice your focusing on that thought, simply place your focus back on the breath, back into your body and back into the moment. Repeat this process of retraining your focus during the whole block of time you designate for meditation. Doing this increases your willpower.

Willpower is the ability to stat focused on whatever you want. In this case what you want to focus on is the breath. A quick practical example, say you’re studying for a test, this willpower spills over and gives you the ability to ignore the desires that would take you away from studying, it is the ability to ignore distraction. A valuable tool indeed, and one you can’t derive from usual means.

So, we sit and breathe for 15 minutes. It can be helpful, in the beginning, to think “inhale” as you inhale and “exhale” as you exhale. This helps train the mind to stay focused on the thought of your choice. After a while, a month or two of constant practice, you can drop the extra layer of thought and simply stay focused on breath. Sounds easy enough right? Good, now go and do it.

If you are unfamiliar with meditation and have never attempted it, then the first few times you sit can be a challenge. Since our goal is to stay focused on breath and the inhale/exhale, any other thoughts are not to be given attention. This is the tough part, most of us are so used to “playing” with each thought that we are going to chase them around where ever they may lead. This we avoid at all costs by remembering the breath, and getting back to the inhale and exhale.

The Process

This is, in a nutshell, the process of meditation. After time, thoughts won’t be as strong, you’ll watch them arise in your mind, linger for a while and then fall away. This is the key point, you stop being anchored in thoughts, in ego, and find the beautiful silence from which thoughts and sensations arise from.

This is why meditation is so powerful, because you re-orient yourself, you rediscover that place that isn’t effected by circumstances, you rediscover that space in each situation, and from this space action arises. One of my favorite Bhagavad Gita quotes (paraphrasing Stephen Michell’s version):

“He who performs his duty with no concern for results is the true man of yoga — not he who refrains from action. Know that right action is perfection, in the yoga of action, you first renounce your own egoic desires.” -SM

When Yoga Stops Being Yoga

When you first start down the path of yoga, the boundaries between your yogic life and normal life are easily identifiable. You go to yoga class, drop into your yoga, leave class and go back to usual life. This is normal. After a while though, when you get on the mat, do some yoga and leave, that yogic balance follows you into your day to day life. Slowly and imperceptibly, the more yoga you practice, the deeper you go into yourself, the longer and more noticeably does this yogic balance stay with you during your normal life.

Yoga Is

Yoga is, yoga is, yoga is.  Yoga is a scientific way to transition from an unhealthy, unbalanced lifestyle to a healthier, more sustainable one.  Millions of people have seen the benefits of yoga manifest in their own lives, but don’t take that as a testament. Start doing yoga now and see the change in yourself.

Lets talk about physical yoga and how immediate the effects can be.  On the short term, it releases endorphins which help increase the mood, it lengthens and works out the muscles of the body, providing many physiological benefits.  On the medium term it helps one to lose weight, increases muscle strength, constant practice creates a buffer between you and stress, making it harder to become stressed in the first place.  In the longer term, it increases cardiovascular strength, increases joint flexibility and many other things.Lotus

Yoga is, I’ve said that before, yoga is.  Yoga is many things, it is a physical practice, an emotional practice; it can be a spiritual practice and the meditative yogic practices surly focus on our mental faculties. I will normally try to differentiate between the different sub-fields of yoga when I speak about a certain focus, such as physical yoga, or the mental meditative practices of yoga.  Yoga, in truth, encompasses all of them and is much more than can be explained simplify.

Yoga Is Not Always Easy

Problems come into our life for a reason. You may have noticed that you seem to be reliving the same problem, or that you get caught in the same types of situations.  This happens because until we discern the reason and pierce through the situation to discover the issue at the core of our problems, the same issues are going to keep manifesting over and over until we understand them, accept them and integrate them into our lives.

The practice of yoga isn’t always an easy one.  Many times you are forced to choose between doing the yogic practice of facing your problems, versus the practice of avoiding them via distraction. It is easy, and sadly encouraged, in our society to simply drink your problems away, or to dive into some other self-destructive habit instead of sitting with the problem and figuring a way though it.  As the old adage goes, the only way to conquer your problems, is to face them head on and work though them.

Avoiding problems compounds their severity.

This process of choosing the self-empowering route is the path of yoga.  Yoga teaches us to act from a selfless place of non-attachment. This means always doing the right thing without regard to personal ambitions, desires or preferences. The physical, mental and emotional aspects of yoga help to balance us and then it becomes much easier to choose to do the most correct thing in each situation we find ourselves.

An Outline of the Process of Yoga

In the first stage of yoga, we’re mostly doing the physical practices with, hopefully, some meditation sprinkled in. During this phase we are getting a sense of what it is like to be grounded and balanced. It is in our nature to oscillate back and for from a balanced state to an unbalanced one, this is how we are able to gauge our progress.  By reflecting on the general flow of our life, we are able to identify periods of relative calm, and we are directly able to tell when we have become ungrounded.

It is much easier to noticed the unbalanced state because by its vary nature it is loud, disruptive and jarring.  The balanced state is mostly characterized by a lack of these emotional and mental outbursts.  It is important not to try and fill these periods in with useless mental noise or distraction.  Meditation during these times is deeper and more enlightening.  Zen is the essence of riding the find line of the present moment.  Meditation keeps us balanced and able to navigate each situation with presence.  The deeper we settle into this grounded state, the longer we are able to stay balanced, the more present we are.  The process from an unaware lifestyle to an aware one takes time.  The more aware we are of our actions, though and behaviors, the more able we are to choose the future path that serves us most.

After a while of this oscillating back and forth from balanced to unbalanced, we gradually settle into a more and more balanced state that pervades our day.  The highs and lows of life are still apparent, they still come and go, but we watch them from a deeper place that isn’t directly effected by these situations. At this point, the struggle turns more internal, ones thoughts and emotions become the playing field of our spiritual revival.

Awakening of Spiritual Awareness

SunriseAt this point, it is nessecary for the meditation practice to deepen.  If it doesn’t or the introspection doesn’t deepen progress seems to grind to a halt. At this point it is easy to lose hope, to lose the knowing that one is on the right path.  This is a critical point.  If one does not decididly and decisivly choose to dive into ones self, then further progress will not manifest.  The external world will still be calm and joyful, but the wholeness that comes with internal purification is lacking, and so leaves one with a deep aching for a more contented experience which is only possible by this internal purification.