How to Move Through Resistance to Something Beautiful

Yoga asana’s and meditation is a morning ritual I follow most mornings. Of the many things I get from regular practice is a lesson about dealing with challenges in life that I find yoga continually teaches beautifully.

While meditation, Qigong and Taiji are practices I have done for a number of decades, one of the unique moments that yoga offers, is creating the space, stillness and time to relax and breath into specific discomforts in ways that gets more subtle, deep with progress.

It occurs in a way that really opens up mind and body energy for the day ahead. Forcing or processing physical, mental or emotional blocks and resistance, is not necessary.

The principle of relaxing into discomfort can also be applied to daily feelings of conflict or tension on emotional, mental and physical levels in daily situations. Yoga can help train you to notice even subtle disturbances or disharmonious feelings and sit with them, making them your friend rather than something to avoid, then using breath and observation with your whole being to enable a wonderful shift.

Bringing breath and consciousness to the exact point or edge of discomfort in a particular pose is all that is required to intimately feel and shift energy or tightness, releasing tension to gain clarity in the moment. It is about surrender with intent, allowing the dissolving of energetic resistance in body and mind in a way that takes you more deeply into a place of formlessness and freedom.

Practices that utilise breath and meditation in movement unite mind and body, allowing a real inward journey that opens up inner awareness. They also combine controlled exertion with deep relaxation, and both combined provide a powerful process of building resilience and depth of relaxation of mind and body.

Yoga presents an opportunity in many asana’s (prolonged postures and body positions) to find a point of resistance deep in a joint or soft tissue that is ready to let go. Traditionally developed systems of yoga work through all of the body and energy channels in a systematic way so a progressive process may unfold of balancing, stretching and strengthening the body in every nook and cranny.

Maintaining continual release of thinking for awareness of breath, while performing controlled movement and relaxed determination required to hold balance, strength or co-ordinated flexibility serve to calm and strengthen relaxed focus of the mind.

Often, in the beginning, there may be many points where there are obstructions to reaching the shape and position of poses or asanas. As practice progresses over time, asana’s that were once impossible or difficult begin to happen as movement and openings occur, the points of resistance becoming more fine and deep. Yet the level of physical performance is not the point.

By spending time breathing and consciously connecting to points of resistance while also maintaining a sense of how the whole body and mind are responding, is part of the art. Subtle shifts in resistance or discomfort takes you on a progressive journey long before a visible change occurs in range of movement and depth of balance.

What is apparent is correct practice and intent combine to activate usually hidden points of tightness, blockage or immobility. All it needs is continued gentle intent and practice to release, while the breath and light of consciousness do the rest. An unwinding of these historical and unique stress patterns then can occur also impacting shifts in perception, body awareness and state of consciousness.

We tend to judge discomforts and want to stop them and cling to feelings we prefer. In this process, there is no resistance to the discomfort, nor attachment to an outcome. It is about acceptance, surrender and being fully with what is in the moment and allowing a transition to spontaneously occur.

The results show that processing or judging issues are often not required to move through them. A calm and open heart and mind with gentle focus and acceptance are often enough. The light of consciousness itself provides all the transformation we need if we can get our own conditioned thinking and self image out of the way.

In the inner practice of yoga, while inner body experience, breath and synchronised movement bring you to a point of maximal stretch in a certain pose, the feeling of resistance may be on many levels. We can use this approach to more gracefully move through difficulties and enjoy the process within ourselves.

Being able to be present and calm with discomfort, allowing it to transform into something else is a learned skill. It need not involve any controlling or forcing. Instead working at the edge of the comfort zone is where we can be in discovery and change rather than suffering in a space we don’t want to be.

The willingness to allow shifts to happen is required. Old tensions reflect old survival mechanisms so tapping into abiding inner peace is where we can feel energetically safe to let old protectiveness go. It is powerful to let go of preconceived ideas of what shift or outcome we think we want, and be open to what presents itself in any moment or situation as the here and now process.

It is often tempting to want to hurry up and manifest what we want, and yet the greatest treasures lie in attuning to the process where we learn not just what we want but also what we need.

Enjoying and expressing ourselves more openly in the present moment is where our creativity and discovery can really happen. Conscious movement and breath can be a safe way to find and release unconscious patterns in ourselves. Through practice we can be better positioned to attune to that process as they are activated in relationships, emotional ‘ups and downs’ and demanding life situations.

Photo on Visual hunt (caption added)

Ways “The Zone” and Mindful Presence Help You Triumph – Part II

In Part I of this article looked at a the shifts in consciousness associated with ‘the zone’ or ‘flow performance’ which are terms referred to in the sporting context. In this second part, I explore the relationship and transition of this conscious shift into ‘mindfulness’ or ‘conscious presence’, which are terms used in a spiritual context for a specific state of consciousness.

The conscious states in these various contexts can enhance wellbeing and performance not just in a demanding situation, but also in normal daily life. They are indicative of a deeper conscious state we can access that provides a deep quality of awareness and enables us to deal with life’s challenges without stress, pain and suffering. What are the elements we can incorporate into our physical activities and lifestyle to help us achieve these conscious shifts?

In this article, I cover three key elements that make physical activities most effective in shifting consciousness and releasing stress.

Shifting Consciousness and Releasing Stress

A different scenario to high acuity and elevated states of awareness during adrenaline sports and activities primarily activating the sympathetic nervous system, are the relaxing synchronised activities that activate the parasympathetic nervous system and train the mind to achieve subtle but sustained states of awareness to those discussed in Part I.

Activities like Tai Chi, Yoga, or Hiking in nature can provide prolonged experiences of this type of awareness. With the right practice and inward focus, they can provide a conscious release from the thinking mind with body movement and mind-body awareness as a transitional focus to get there.

In these instances, a ‘flow performance’ or in ‘the zone’ experience can also occur, albeit not as intense and brief, with gradual progression in stability and duration of the experience, beyond the activity that facilitates it, into normal daily life.

Nonetheless, occasional intense experiences arise at unpredictable times just as they do with more adrenaline oriented activities. I have had some peak moments of flow and awareness arise on days when I was not feeling so good and there was a need to draw more deeply into myself to focus and perform. Such unexpected peak moments may not have even correlated with an unexpected peak performance but left me with a shift that enriched more energised practice over the following days and weeks.

Three Key Elements

There are three key factors that provide a powerful combination for practicing and developing mindful awareness which are shared in a great range of disciplines like those mentioned above. They are:

  • Controlled body movement or posture, synchronised with
  • conscious and purposeful breathing, along with
  • focused but relaxed attention with full inner-body awareness.

In adrenaline sports or dangerous activities, as in high concentration work and activities, the mind is highly focused in the immediate moment and every second. Training oneself to voluntarily be fully focused in the here and now and immediate experience, body awareness and activity at hand, with a mind clear of thought and heart open in presence is the key here.

To do so with a sense of alignment and harmony (the state of mind as primary to the experience as the activity itself) is a universal theme of philosophies and spiritual teachings like zen, buddhism and other approaches that make inward focus and personal experience their primary focus. This is why Tai Chi is often associated with Zen and Taoism, or Hatha Yoga and Pranayama breathing exercises with inner Yogic meditation and Indian Vedanta.

The basic elements however, can be applied to any activity or non-activity like simply sitting which is at the essence of zen practice, or pouring a cup of tea like the more elaborate tea ceremonies of China and Japan. This is simple but subtle, which is why it is hard to conceptualise and is better to be contemplated through practice rather than theory and intellectualising.

The dimension where such practices become truly spiritual, is in the consciousness that opens the practitioner to an authentic sense of deep peace and expansive presence that can overcome suffering (emotional and mental turbulence and pain) and putting the ego in its place as servant rather than master. Becoming immune to anxiety and stress through this transcendent state is coupled with access to a sense of unity with life with a feeling of abiding peace, love and even a consistent underlying blissfulness.

From Movement to Mindfulness

The key in all of this is the super high acuity of the present moment while the sense of self is replaced with an immersion in the entire experience based in the interaction occurring between self, the environment at hand and any interaction with others without separation between them. The experience of all three is occurring within, in the conscious mind. This is where the term ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ is relative. Sages throughout the ages have communicated deep insight into the nature of everything being an experience in consciousness itself.

In this state of high acuity, identification with a self image dissolves. It is replaced with a sense of being the space in which your enhanced experience is occurring, rather than identification with the content of the present moment experience. This comes with a sense of accepting connection or unity with it all. Mental narrative and thinking is replaced with a still open receptivity, that provides for spontaneity and responsiveness that is not consciously premeditated.

This is not a zombie-like state, but a surrender to an innate intelligence and consciousness that alert and full of life. When it is found repeatedly, there is a sense of returning to a home base of consciousness that is there whether we tune into it or not. It is the life and conscious essence of our existence.

Even when a brief insight and awakening is achieved, for example with some professional athletes as discussed in Part I, if the whole focus at the time (and following) for the person is on winning or losing or some external outcome, then it may not transform into anything more than a psychological zone for optimal performance. It either becomes part of the high of winning or is discounted and negated in the disappointment of losing and the conditioned identification with mind content is not transcended.

If the focus of the experiencer is on the pleasure, connectivity and fluidness of the experience as a primary outcome in and of itself, then such a peak state can be appreciated and recognised as a deeper state of being. Being lifted from the conditioned and mundane sense of being a separate self reveals or validates a profound sense of life that many describe as spiritual.

Such peak experiences can be a time when we drop our usual familiar mental constructs and ‘points of reference’ spontaneously. Just a few, or even one experience like this, can open up a new sense of what ‘conscious’ being and doing is. It is certainly a profound shift when a person feels irreversibly, albeit subtly and obscurely changed, and peak moments like these have produced this kind of impact for many.

A sporting challenge, prolonged or extremely acute stress and suffering or a spontaneous and blissfully perfect moment can all provide for a few, an portal to those peak moments when we spontaneously experience a shift in being and awareness that translates into a new level of perceiving and performing something in our life. In a sense, it could be perceived as the purpose for the challenges and struggles of life. Meditative movement or stillness can nurture and train mind and body awareness to be more attuned and prepared for such moments.

These moments can be termed as states of heightened mindfulness or ‘the conscious practice of presence’ as they can produce a recognisably high acuity of here and now consciousness. Other benefits of this sense of higher self is that it imbues life experience, beyond good or bad, with a greater appreciation of beauty, goodness and excellence as intrinsic qualities in nature, other people and life in general.

Photo on VisualHunt <“https://visualhunt.com/re2/276d13“> (quote added)

Important Tips on Vagal Toning for Complete Health

Much about good health and a healthy long life is now being linked to the ‘tone’ of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. Because the sympathetic nervous system which invokes ‘flight or fight’ response is also commonly over-activated in stressful and fast paced living, it is more important than ever to tone the parasympathetic system for mind and body, in addition to high activity exercise.

Toning the parasympathetic system assists in repair and rebuilding to all cells and tissues in the body, quicker recovery and shifts into relaxation, lowering blood pressure, and helping recovery from adrenal fatigue. Having both the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems toned and balanced is important for mitochondrial functioning, lowering inflammation, regulating hunger and hormonal balance and boosting immunity.

The importance of regulation and health of microbiome in the body is tied in with the parasympathetic system health. Much is now being found out about the critical role bacteria plays for health regulation in the body and immunity. Consider the mass of our bacteria is greater than our own body cells, and our body cells contain 3000 genes while there are 2.2 million genes in the DNA of our bacteria with a cross-over of information between our body and brain and these critical bacteria. Microbiome, along with mitochondrial functioning will be covered in another article, but these are now considered two key factors in energy production, disease prevention, brain health and long term anti-ageing for healthy longevity and are also linked up with the tone and functioning of the vagus nerve.

The Vagus Nerve

A key component to the parasympathetic system that is now taking centre stage amongst many practitioners of health and healthy lifestyles is the vagus nerve. This is a two-way highway of energy and information between body and brain. Taking its name from the latin word for “wandering”, it is the tenth and biggest cranial nerve extending directly from the medulla (brain stem) to most of the body. It affects facial muscles and eyes when we relax and smile, connecting to our digestive system from our throat to all digestive organs, and connects with our heart and lungs. It’s connection to the digestive organs of the liver and kidneys mean it is not only impacting our digestion and metabolism but also detoxification and elimination of waste and by-products of what we eat, breath and put our bodies through with stress and over – or under-activity. A toned nervous system supports stability in mood, memory, and overall brain health. So there are many systems of rejuvenation and body functioning that the vagus nerve impacts, to indicate it is a key factor in a holistic approach to health.

Here are some conditions and health factors that are associated with the level of tone of the vagus nerve:

  • the bodies inflammatory response: many chronic as well as acute conditions are now understood to be associated with inflammation
  • Repair and cell growth of brain cells and assisting in memory
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Immunity including the level of T-cell and killer cell response to disease and body repair
  • Various addictions and compulsive disorders
  • Mental health disorders
  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Vagal tone can be indicated through the many bodily systems it affects and is generally measured directly through combined testing of heart and breathing rates, as well as heart rate variability (HRV) which is associated with the adaptability of your body to changes in external and internal conditions. HRV and vagal tone are closely correlated to one another – if one is functioning highly, then so is the other.

Vagal Toning

How do you ensure that you have good vagal toning? The same key factors recognised for vagal toning match most of the key factors recognised for acquiring and maintaining good health and healthy longevity! Here they are:

  1. Cold Exposure

    Acute cold exposure is shown by many researchers to activate the vagus nerve. It is a key factor to the Wim Hof Method which uses exposure to cold and breathing techniques for activating health and vitality. Just using ice cold water on the face is enough, or incorporating a brief cold shower into your usual shower routine. Within two weeks or less, most people notice a decline in the deep inhale or breath hold reaction to sudden cold, and notice a more relaxed response to the sudden exposure to cold. This indicates neural adaptation and vagal toning.

    Vagus nerve stimulation increases parasympathetic activity throughout the body and stimulates digestion and metabolism. Our bodies evolved to rely on such stimulation and environmental stressors like cold, which we now lack in the modern world of controlled environments. It only takes a little to strengthen and activate important functions of resilience towards these stressors which in turn enhances our resilience to stressors in general.

  2. Deep Slow Breathing

    The direct correlation between breath and heart rate (as well as HRV) and the vagus nerve that modulate or regulates them, means conscious breathing is also a quick, powerful and easy way to activate the vagus nerve. Research shows benefits to blood pressure and hypertension with breathing exercises alone. High breathing rates activate the sympathetic nervous system while slow deep breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system and so helps autonomic functions like the respiratory and cardio-vascular systems to go into repair and recovery.

The most basic exercise is to do 1-3 minutes of inhaling for a count of four, holding for a count of four, exhaling for a count of four, then waiting for another count of four before repeating. Doing this when your getting stressed at home or office, car or shopping mall will help brain function, effectiveness and comfortability go up and stress levels go down by releasing calming chemicals to feed your brain rather than stress chemicals to your muscles.

  1. Synchronised Movement and Breath like Yoga, Tai Chi and Xigong

    Just like what is said above, breathing itself activates the vagus nerve. Breathing associated with movement that stretches fascial tissue, muscles and joints while opening up energy channels have been found to be very effective in producing calming neurotransmitters like GABA in the brain and body. The traditional forms of yoga that incorporate activity with regular intermittent relaxation in poses like ‘sivasana’ can produce deeper and deeper levels of relaxation and endocrine production for relaxation and mood elevation. Also, particularly activating for the vagus nerve are relaxed movements with deep breathing that are expanding the thoracic (chest) region, inversions (legs up against a wall, various head stands, hand stands and shoulder stands) as well as sustained twisting postures with spine straight and chest out.

    In addition to those who have discovered the great benefits of yoga and Tai Chi, these types of activities are being used more and more by high performance athletes to assist in recovery and improved resilience to ongoing physical demands while the same holds true for resilience, good health and mood elevation throughout the challenges of life.

  2. Meditation and Conscious Presence

    After nearly fifty years of scientific studies, vast amounts of research has now been done on various types of meditation and the many benefits. In addition to increased vagal tone, positive emotions and thinking, and feelings of goodwill, studies done in schools and universities also show increases in concentration and brain functioning, and decreases in mental disorders and violent interactions.

    Meditation as well as general practice of conscious presence trains the mind to function effectively at brain frequencies that reduce sympathetic ‘fight or flight’ stress responses and increases vagal modulation. Greater insight, creativity, calm awareness, appreciation and mood elevation are among the many other benefits are confirmed in studies. So is the ability to respond and act in situations with less or little stress and adrenaline involved through this type of mind training.

  3. Exercise or High Intensity Activity

Exercise also has many studies showing it to be an effective way to increase the brains growth hormone, stimulate human growth hormone production during deep sleep, increase important receptor sites for mitochondrial functioning in and on cells, and help reverse cognitive decline and other aspects of ageing.

Exercise as a great stimulator of the vagus nerve may explain some of these benefits.

Walking, weight bearing exercise and high intensity training are all good. Weight bearing is especially good for reversing decline in bone and muscle density and decline of certain hormone levels in the body associated with ageing. So is interval training, in addition to being a very time effective way to build fitness. For interval training, try 10-30 minutes of walking, jogging or cycling 3-4 times a week, with periodic 1-2 minute bursts at maximum pace during each session.

  1. Probiotics and Dietary Factors

    There are many new studies in the last ten years indicating strong associations between brain function and immunity as well as vagal tone with microbiome (micro-organisms in the body) – especially bacteria in the gut.

    In addition, dietary factors like essential fatty acids (fats the body can’t make itself like Omega-3 and -6) are critical for cellular integrity, brain and mental health and nerve function. This includes vagal tone, which may be also why dietary fatty acids can help reduce heart rate and increase heart rate variability. A great source of these are in certain fish oils (organically farmed or wild-caught salmon are an example or Australian northern river fish like Barramundi are rich in Omega-3 and Omega-6 oils).

    Zinc is also a key dietary mineral for vagus nerve stimulation and preventing or improving various certain brain function disorders, mental health and anxiety. Good food sources include oysters, pumpkin seeds, cashews, mushrooms, spinach and grass-fed beef for meat eaters.

  2. Intermittent Fasting

Many health benefits are being documented and studied now on fasting, with more attention lately on short-term intermittent fasting. This also is being shown to help improve brain function and growth hormones, mitochondrial function, brain ‘fog’ and cognitive issues. Fasting and caloric restriction is also being associated with increased HRV again indicating vagal tone improvement.

The ideal is to not eat at least two hours before bed, which also improves sleep patterns. Best results are if most days, people can have a 12 to 16 hour window of not eating between dinner and breakfast. Immunity increases, detoxification and cellular cleansing (cellular death – apoptosis- and cellular reproduction cycles) are also stimulated. The 16 hour window of fasting (with an 8 hour window of healthy eating) is a great way to sustainably lose weight. The 12 hour fasting window is great for general health and weight maintenance (helping to keep down accumulation of unhealthy fat). Once every week, fortnight or month also try a 36 hour fast by only having fluids during one day to reset the body, stimulate many healing processes, increase resilience to disease, environmental and other stressors.

  1. The Power of the Voice

    Vagus nerve expert, Dr. Stephen Porges established Polyvagal Theory. He talks about the hard wiring in our evolution towards flight-or-fight stimulation including response to social communication which encompasses verbal and body language, vocal tone and non-verbal cues.

    A soothing voice for adults and children in gentle, slow and rhythmic tones coaxes the brain into a relaxed state faster and activates the parasympathetic nervous system, including the vagal nerve. This is true whether you are the speaker or listener. While the voice is powerful and effective for adults, it is great for young children for whom a modulated and calm voice is powerful for vagal and parasympathetic development and toning during years where much neural programming or conditioning is happening. It is powerful also for babies (especially combined with skin-to-skin contact) and can be utilised regularly and daily in combination with other approaches mentioned in this article.

    Singing, humming, chanting and even gargling all stimulate the vagus nerve which connects to the vocal chords and muscles in the throat. These all are shown to also increase the hallmark sign of vagal toning which is increase of heart rate variability.

  2. Social Lifestyle and Laughter

    Quite a few studies on social factors have linked healthy, active and supportive social life with healthy longevity as well as recovery from illness or trauma. In addition, laughter has been shown to be strongly related to good health as well as healing and recovery. Both socialising and laughter reduce cortisol and other stress related hormones, stimulate the vagus nerve and HRV while improving mood and happy hormone production. Unfortunately for some, excessive or heavy alcohol consumption is somewhat counter effective, so moderating consumption while having as much fun and shared frivolity is great for one and all!

  3. Acupuncture and Massage

Both acupuncture and massage stimulate the vagus nerve, increasing its activity and tone. Specific points and areas like the sole of the foot (reflexology), auricular (ear) acupuncture, points along the side of the neck (near the carotid artery) are especially good for this. They are also effective spots to assist people coming off anti-depressants and other psychiatric medication, assist people with neurodegenerative diseases, as well as general stress related issues.

In closing …. my intention is not to write a scientific paper here. There are many references related to these ten points above which be can provided for specific points on request. Many supporting studies can be found through a simple online search on any term or specific topic. Much is common sense and there’s enough information here to help you take control of stress levels and steer your way into better mind and body health. Having all points above as part of your lifestyle will help disease prevention, increased resilience, promote total health while increasing enjoyment and quality of life.

Facing Death to Better Face Life

There are three big benefits from contemplating death in a positive sense. Firstly, it adds to appreciating every living moment, making the most of it, and not taking things and others for granted. Secondly, it adds a sobering depth and motivation to contemplating the big picture of life and contemplating spiritual meanings. Thirdly, it gives perspective on what the little things and big things are in life and worth your energy and focus. In other words, what is important and not taking too much too seriously.

In terms of spiritual growth and general maturity, as we let go of fear and embrace life more fully, one of the final fears to face and move through is the fear of loss and death. It may not be the concept of death that is frightening but times in your life when you come close to it personally or with someone close, or when you get a sense of letting go fully into something unknown where your own sense of self is put to the test, then facing death and fear of death can seem pretty close.

Spiritual awakening as a transformation ultimately hits the chord of any fear of death, because true awakening marks the end of identification with the ego self. This can feel like a type of death for the part of us we are letting go. In the Bhagavad Gita (Gita 6:37-39), Arjuna’s question reveals one of the final fears and anxieties in the mind of one who has recognised the truths in Sri Krishna’s teachings yet still has doubt in himself to fulfil them. Self doubt feeds this final fear when we are poised to let go of what is tangible and familiar to the ego mind and step in faith towards the values and consciousness of the higher Self. Essentially Arjuna is asking what happens to a person who is unsuccessful in yoga (spiritual union) who has let go of material identity but has not mastered his mind, so ends up short on union of consciousness as well as material success and identity. It is a fear of being lost between worlds, of failure and loss in gaining nothing.

Sri Krishna’s answer (Gita 6:40-44) reveals the Gita’s view of life and death. He reflects on the immortality of spirit as consciousness and that anyone with good intentions and actions will never meet with an evil plight or death. The idea of reincarnation is a strong part of Indian thought and culture, providing a context and karmic rationale for both heavenly and worldly, life and death consequences for choices about living one’s life. Whether you are of a culture or personal belief in reincarnation back in the material world or incarnations through higher levels of spiritual realms beyond this world, the same principles apply, whereby salvation does not arrive by merit of a heavenly pass at death. Rather death is just a portal to further ongoing existence and where we continue to reap what we have sown, playing the main role in our own salvation and development towards true awakening.

Similarly (Gita 2:27-28) is less poetic but very clear and applicable to all of us whatever our faith, convictions or belief. Considering a universal truth in this world for those prescribing to different views of life beyond death, no one can argue about the inevitability of death. Krishna notes this and the veiled nature of existence before and this material life as a fact of life, so “why lament about it”?

That everything material changes and passes is cause to ponder the big questions about reality, before and after the fleeting time we have in our current physical body, and the profoundness of experience and consciousness accessible to us. Whatever our lifestyle, bodily deterioration is occurring gradually and is ever present on a physical level, until at some point the body will be cast aside (Gita 2:22).

Easwaran in his Gita companion says “It is good to face death with courage, but that is not enough; we must learn to face it with understanding.” (p.191). In a spiritual sense, through meditation and practice of presence generally, we can become familiar with consciousness that transcends sense organs and objects, including projections of mind. This transcendent awareness brings with it a sense of living awareness and identity independent of the body and thinking mind. Thus, an intuitive sense or even knowing of death as a doorway to another state of pure consciousness comes as a natural part of insight and realisation of the nature of this unchanging consciousness from which our ever-changing perceptions and responses arise.

Being mindful of death can be a means of making the most of each living moment, of the profoundness of every moment. Some saints and seekers do things to deepen this mindfulness. Saint Teresa of Avila kept a skull on her desk. Yogis, saints and masters in India sit before cadavers to meditate to help them transcend mortal mindedness. Warriors (spiritual and military) or those living in harsh conditions often use the inevitability of death to fuel their conviction and focus on their conscious choices, actions and life path. It fuels comradeship. It heightens the focus, conviction and mind power of shamans.

In the Gita (8:12-13), Sri Krishna gives Arjuna a crash course in how to die which is the basis for various meditations and mudras for unifying mind and soul, as well as preparing for optimum consciousness during death. Basically, the meditation describes withdrawing the vital energy and focus from body and senses into the mind where a mantra and intention towards the divine or consciousness of consciousness itself is the sole awareness accompanied by the sound of Aum. This is full immersion in pure awareness and presence. From there in Gita terms the consciousness transcends mind “into Buddhi, the higher mind, and finally into what is called the causal body, the seat of I-consciousness. Easwaran discussing this verse describes the process “like taking off an overcoat button by button, then removing your jacket, and finally your pullover, folding each piece carefully and setting it aside.” (p.194).

In normal meditation, some vitality is kept in the body to keep it living. Experienced meditators will vouch for a heightened sense of aliveness and awareness when in this state than normal body consciousness. Whatever the details of after death existence, Sri Krishna notes the unchanging nature at the seat of consciousness itself, which can be realised in life and continues after death.

Uniting all faculties “by the power of yoga” or the biblical “loving God with all your heart, your soul, your strength and mind” to achieve deep awakening requires sustained devoted and dedicated effort. It does not have to be complicated, done always with closed eyes, but rather a consistent part of being present while we attend to living our lives fully present in our selves, our environment and others. It does require a balanced character and approach to life. Spiritual teachings universally view development of the soul and ‘awakening’ as a cumulative result of mindful practice while living a meritorious life as the key to fulfilment and happiness, as well as readiness for when it is time to go.

Arjuna asks Krishna ‘what if we aren’t ready and haven’t got there?’ The assurance is when death is understood through contemplation and knowing the nature of consciousness itself, it looses its terror. Much of the problem with dying is the inability to let go, along with regrets about life. As Easwaran points out, in conscious dying “all attention is on where you are going: there is no attention on what you are leaving behind, which means no clinging. It’s not so much that you’re not afraid of death; the question simply does not arise”. In other words, like in deep meditation and practice of presence, the process is less about letting go of identification with thoughts and body and more an engagement with a known existential state of being.

Many people who have been in a dangerous instant where they thought they were about to die, experience no fear and an instant acceptance. I have experienced this a few times. My daughter experienced it when she fell from a cliff and thought that was it. As an observer in that instance I confronted my worst of fears as a parent then went into protect and rescue mode when I saw her mercifully injured but okay below. It is different for the person facing this moment for themselves, when all of life has lead to one key instant.

The cumulative effect of spiritual effort contributes to our level of consciousness at death. Meanwhile, we can enhance the experience and depth of conscious choosing in our daily lives as the layers of conditioning stored in the material mind is unravelled in the light of that consciousness and spiritual identification. The opportunity for continued learning and discovery, facing challenges “calmly, courageously, and compassionately” is part of our purpose.

I’ll finish with a final note from Easwaran that the getting of wisdom is not just learning more, but the capacity to learn from past mistakes while facing new difficulties by ‘detached intellect’. “Detached intelligence is the very source of wisdom … that acquired wisdom awakens us to the extent we listen to it, not so much in the head as in the heart.” (p.203).

Photo credit: h.koppdelaney via Visual Hunt / CC BY-ND

Recommended Reading:

God Talks To Arjuna: The Bhagavad Gita, by Paramahansa Yogananda (Self Realisation Fellowship, 2nd Edition 1999)

The Bhagavad Gita, by Swami Sivananda (Divine Life Society, 15th Edition 2015)

Essence of the Bhagavad Gita: A Contemporary Guide to Yoga, Meditation and Indian Philosophy, by Eknath Easwaran (The Blue Mountanin Center of Meditation, 2011).

True Life Riches That Bring Love and Freedom

The Fullness of Love

Having a life full of love means being able to receive and feel love in ourselves along with a life of sharing it with others. There is an undying and causeless love we can draw on at anytime which gives our relationships and occupations meaning and purpose when we can love each other and what we do. Knowing and doing what you love with love is fulfilling in and of itself because it is embodying, expressing, sharing and channeling this love into the world as you experience it.

The Bhagavad Gita 13:27 says: “He sees truly who perceives the Supreme Lord present equally in all creatures, the Imperishable amidst the perishing.” Swami Sivananda describes someone with this view as self-realised. Sivananda likens the divine essence in us all as like the heat that is common in all kinds of fire, the gold that is the same in different ornaments and light being the same from different lamps.

Paramahansa Yogananda refers to the ground of all creatures who share the same substance of life which is the Lord as consciousness (chit in sanskrit) and existence or being (sat). Yogananda goes on to equate our identity as creatures and mortals with delusion and perishing, yet “as children of the Most High, sons of the Creator, we partake of His uncaused and indestructible nature.”

The cosmology of the Gita can be brought down to ourselves as the centre of the universe as we each experience it, not as isolated orphans, but as part of a living conscious universe with the capacity to live in a way that benefits and harmonises the rest of life. According to Easwaran, the Gita proposes the whole in each of us, as each of us is an expression of universal consciousness in which is contained the entire universe. Thus we can see ourselves in each other and in all “which is the basis of universal love”.

To put it dramatically, the whole cosmos is a setting for us to rise above it and go beyond time, place, and circumstance into the supreme reality that is God”. Easwaren (p.52)

True Freedom of the Muni

The Gita 2:55-57 describes the freedom of the muni (one who can dissolve his mind in divine presence or God) as relinquishment of worldly desires, entirely contented in the Self, not shaken by anxiety under afflictions nor attached to happiness in favourable circumstances, free from worldly loves, fears and angers – he is settled in wisdom and steady discrimination.

Part of the practice of this relinquishment can be in the small things in life. Easwaran brings it right down to basics, using eating your broccoli as an example of weakening the conditioned mind which is happy only with what it likes. With practice and maturity “you find yourself no longer compelled to do what you enjoy, but instead enjoying whatever you do.” (p.160). Another aspect is what I described in a previous post as “embracing the good, bad and the ugly”. Meanwhile, another attribute of the muni is to absorb worldly desires into oneself then dissolve them in the vast ocean of presence.

Yogananda refers to pure bliss from meditative and spiritualised actions as the source of complete satisfaction and supreme happiness of the muni. It is this that enables us to embrace all aspects of our life with equanimity and absorb all desires into a greater and stronger bliss. Yogananda gives us the ideal of the perfect sage, whose outer nature still retains some egoity as an individualised consciousness in the form of a spiritualised ego retaining the bliss of presence even after meditation and while performing actions in life.

Many of us do not realise there is no pleasures of the flesh without a soul identifying with the body for it to happen. Yet instead of identifying with soul presence, we cling to bodily and worldly pleasures for satisfaction and relief from the rigours of life – “just as a mad lover, identified with his beloved, thinks his happiness dependent on her and her alone!” The wise man perceives all bliss is contained in the inner self, the nature of the soul being different to the nature of the body. “As fear is caused by a sense of impending misfortune, the wise man, identified with the soul, knows no such desires. Anger results from the nonfulfillment of a bodily or mental desire; the muni harbours no such desires.”

Finally, Yogananda explains the neutrality of the wise in all circumstances, is not a heartless indifference but conscious control and calming of the faculties of consciousness. The conditioned mind is as a “puppet of nature”, actions and reactions an excitable yet predictable mix of delusive influences. The key is in recognising the distinction between the blessed nature of the soul and the excitable and transitory nature of body and mind.

Easwaren describes being truly free as when no mental state or “emotion can overwhelm you, no craving can drive you into action”, where dependence on others and outside circumstances and the tides of fortune no longer hold any sway, there is no compulsions or need to manipulate anyone. The “heart is full of joy and your mind full of peace” and whatever occurs you always experience true completeness. (pp.57,58). The recognition of the depth if these attributes is where we can access them through authentic and consistent practice of presence in stillness and in action.

Commenting on a similar verse in the Gita, Yogananda explains (Gita 2:70) that the ability to absorb all desires within, keeping an inner ocean of quiescence filled to the brim, does not mean abandoning good aspirations – “in spiritual life giving is receiving.” He quotes Jesus words in Matthew 25:29: “For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance; but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.” Actively pursuing a desire to give joy and peace, or any acts of goodness to others will bring more joy and peace to the doer. The deeper we go in drawing on inner love and peace in living and sharing our life, the more vast an ocean of divine Self is made available to one and all to commingle in the universal ocean of divine life and consciousness.

In this post I draw on the wisdom of two saints and master yogi’s Paramahansa Yogananda and Swami Sivananda as well as the wise and much loved devotee of the Gita, Eknath Easwaran. It is always good to draw on the pearls of auspicious and venerated teachers to whom I give thanks.

Recommended Reading:

God Talks To Arjuna: The Bhagavad Gita, by Paramahansa Yogananda (Self Realisation Fellowship, 2nd Edition 1999)

The Bhagavad Gita, by Swami Sivananda (Divine Life Society, 15th Edition 2015)

Essence of the Bhagavad Gita: A Contemporary Guide to Yoga, Meditation and Indian Philosophy, by Eknath Easwaran (The Blue Mountain Center of Meditation, 2011).

Six Simple Life Enhancing Principles for an Awesome Year

The start of a new year is a good time to look at these six principles that may seem simple, yet can be applied to enhance your life and have an awesome year! Five of them are the key principles of Sivananda yoga with another one added to include life engagement with others. Identify an area you could do more of in your weekly routine, or enhance by applying a principle that stands out for you.

Proper Relaxation

There are enormous benefits for mind and body to regular practice of deep relaxation. Quality sleep with complete sleep cycles is an important aspect of rest, recovery, and balance. The practice of conscious deep relaxation supplements this and carries benefits into daily activities by teaching conservation of energy, how to let go of worry, fear and tension, as well as how to relax the mind while being focused on a single activity. The key to the yogic principle of proper relaxation is combining complete rest of mental and physical activity to fully rest the whole nervous system.

Certain systems of yoga intensify the ability to fully relax by alternating concentrated activity that is not overly stressful or over exerting (not inducing fatigue) with full relaxation in between with a deeper and longer relaxation at the end of a session. Exercises that help open up circulation and energy flow in the body are also complimentary in preparation for deep relaxation.

To completely relax, it helps to get into a posture like floating in a float tank, where there is complete comfort and no need to move for a time. This is good to do for 5-10 minutes or more after activity, once the breathing and stimulation from activity has settled right down. Lie on your back and have the arms and legs spread out enough that the feet comfortably turn out and the palms of the hands turned up with the shoulders and chest open. The spine should not be too curved, but elongated along the floor or mat with the neck also comfortably lengthened. Use auto-suggestion going through each part of your body mentally, from the feet up, that “ ____ is relaxing” and “___ is relaxed”. Finish with the internal organs and then your mind itself and let go fully into receptive stillness for a time. Autosuggestion is a technique used by masters to control body functions usually not able to be voluntarily controlled like heart and metabolic rates.

Relaxation can be the most challenging of the five principles for some people, and if that is the case then start with shorter time and lengthen it on a regular basis. The sense of rejuvenation and fullness in the body is like pressing a reset button for mind and body and is a great start or finish to the day.

Proper Exercise

A quick summary of types of exercise and benefits: Resistance training has great benefits in maintaining circulation, muscle and bone density throughout life. Cycling, running and swimming can be great for cardio-vascular health and fitness. Interval training is considered one of the best ways to keep up metabolic rate, loose weight and increase fitness with efficiency of time and energy. Dance, martial art and gymnastic practices provide great co-ordination, core strength, agility and flexibility. All exercises can help restore hormonal balance as well as stress release in mind and body. Regular exercise elevates mood and mental focus.

Yoga asanas, or postures, can work systematically on all parts of the body – strengthening, toning and stretching muscles and ligaments (including minor muscles groups that can be neglected in certain sports), enhancing and maintaining spine and joint flexibility and improving circulation. Yoga, or practices like xigong and taichi can combine meditation and exercise by synchronising movement and breath in a relaxed state of full presence and conscious release of tension.

Proper Breathing

Proper breathing is full and rhythmic breathing, making use of all of your lungs to increase oxygen intake and maintain full functioning of the respiratory system for life. Any exercise that raises the volume and rate of breathing is of benefit. Yogic breathing teaches how to utilise the three key areas of abdominal and diaphragm, chest or thoracic and clavicular breathing. Yogic systems of kriyas and pranayama also teach methods to recharge body energy and control mental states by regulating the flow of prana (chi or life energy) stored in key energy centres of the body called chakras. These centres also correlate with key points of nerve ganglia (bundles of nerves and vascular tissue) aligned in the brain and spine, associated with key organs and glands of the body.

Various breath patterns can be powerful and specific to releasing physical stress, emotional blocks and mental/emotional patterns. Techniques like anuloma viloma focus also on quietening the mind.

Proper Diet

Proper diet obviously needs to be nourishing and well balanced in nutrients and food types. Processed foods need to be eliminated from regular consumption or all together. A diet based on fresh food (not overly cooked) is a key. Whatever the diet, mounting scientific evidence is showing a number of factors determine the best diet, so that a good diet for one person may not be the best for another. While there are many diets claiming to be the best, genetics, blood and body type, level of activity, and other factors play a part in determining the best food combinations and quantities. A predisposition to over-heating or feeling cold, stiff joints, bloating or gas, headaches, allergies, lethargy or large swings in energy levels, skin or digestive disorders all indicate issues with diet. Most types of disorders can be managed or resolved through diet. Over-heating and acidic foods should also be minimised, so a predominance of vegetables (with fruit eaten separately) is a common dietary principle in many systems.

Most of us know ways we can improve our dietary habits. Practicing a new habit for 21-30 days is a great start to make it a permanent change. Aryurvedic, naturopathic or nutritionist consultations can be a very positive step to make for anyone at a point of wanting to optimise health or deal with disorders sustainably and holistically. Is this something you can do this year to improve a health or lifestyle issue you know is better addressed sooner than later?

Positive Thinking and Meditation

Being conscious of the positivity or negativity of our thinking can be a game changer. The tone, language, and subject matter of habitual thinking are all influential to our character, perception, how we respond or react and how rewarding things can be. Using affirmations or adjusting a negative train of thought to a positive one are great skills to practice. The ability to observe and adjust our thinking is enhanced with meditation which trains us to observe our thoughts and feelings as they arise. Ultimately, meditation can train us to still the mind and transcend thoughts to reach new levels of conscious being and awareness.

Finding books, courses or teachers in these areas can be a great place to start to enhance this aspect to your life. The mind is essentially the most important aspect of self to consciously train in order to achieve greater life enrichment and harmony. If you already are on a personal journey here, is there something you can do in your life to take insight and awareness to a new level this year?

Conscious Doing – Expression, Engagement, Relationships and Daily Activity

The first five points set the stage to have better awareness and mastery in how we communicate and respond in relationship to our environment and others. Bad habits and compulsive behaviours can erode the many good things we do and impact our ability to be our true self within and in relationship with others.

This year, how can you better embody balance and health in mind and body to others and inspire loved ones to do the same? Is daily attention to nurturing one or a combination of the following points a good focus for you this year? :-

  • invoke a sense of love in your actions, be they personal or professional, through focusing on relaxing into open heartedness in all circumstances,
  • listening to others more by taking a few seconds to breath, feel and understand their points of view or repeating back what they say,
  • breaking and transforming a pattern of negative or compulsive thinking or behaviour,
  • making it a focus and reviewing daily where you are reinforcing positive values and principles you stand for and where you can do better,
  • separating thoughts and ‘doing’ from ‘being’ and awareness – practicing being present more in yourself and the moment, on your own and engaging with others. Identifying with the consciousness doing the thinking and actions is a significant step in awareness and conscious interaction in the world. Eckhard Tolle’s teaching focus on this with a modern, practical and universal approach.

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A Simple & Powerful Way of Enhancing Mindful Living

What are we always doing naturally that is immediately and continually available as a focal point of grounding and expansion of consciousness, providing the link between form and formlessness, doing and being, physical life and beyond death? …… it is our breath.

Conscious breathing is the vehicle for various therapies, relaxation techniques, basic and advanced meditations which are about shifting the mind to a higher awareness and spiritual awakening. Conscious breathing is also key part of the benefits and authentic practice of yogic techniques, xigong and taiji which are about unifying awareness of body, mind and spirit beyond the separate ego-self.

Breathing is something that happens by itself, so it can be witnessed like consciousness, so in meditation it is not something you do but witness with awareness. This is perfect for putting the receptive mind in an open, present and alert state.

These techniques involve directing the breath in ways that engage inner alertness, a relaxed yet focused mind synchronising breath, movement and attention producing a sense of mind, body and spirit alignment and wellbeing. In qigong and taiji for example we can practice performing actions that are practical while maintaining a mindful presence of body-consciousness and the environment around us. In other words, they can enhance the effects of conscious breathing in stilling the activity of the mind while maintaining wakeful alertness of mindful body movement that is synchronised with the breath. This type of mindful practice trains and teaches us how to apply this same balance of doing and non-doing with a spacious awareness while dealing with daily tasks, observing our thoughts and feelings as they arise and thus help develop identification with consciousness instead of the content of consciousness. We can learn to utilise breath and mindfulness to maintain a sense of balance, a sense of stability and focus while being present with real arising thoughts and feeling responses to situations without getting taking away by them.

With this awareness we can become more empowered to deal with stress and emotional reactions, habitual negative or non-productive thinking, behavioural habits and compulsions, by being able to experience them without them becoming our whole sense of self in the moment. Without processing them, just by embracing them deeply with the light of consciousness and presence, keeping our energy moving with conscious breathing, these same thoughts and feelings can transform from habitual and predictable reactions to new and creative ground.

The space between our thoughts and feelings is what reveals the consciousness that is projecting them. Maintaining a state of presence and awareness of this background of consciousness gives us a greater ability to respond and experience all aspects of ourselves and our life with equanimity and perspective. The breath can be used as an intermediary focus between the content of mind and the consciousness from which it arises. Learning to engage with more quality and frequency of consciousness of consciousness can then become the grounding point for spiritual awakening and experience.

Mindful awareness enables us to experience spaciousness of mind and heart where thoughts, feelings and situations come and go in a medium of consistent stability and relaxed openness. Conscious breathing gives us an immediate tool that helps ground our present moment awareness within and without in a balanced way. At the same time boundaries can dissolve so we feel unified with reality in and around us. Good practice of Qigoing and taiji or yoga combines relaxed body movement or postures with conscious breathing to further ground this mindful awareness into our inner experience of the physical body and the circulation of breath and subtle energies to create a more tangible subjective experience associated with this state of being.

However, you don’t have to practice these disciplines for years or become an expert to start getting great benefits. Taking brief times to be still and breath even a dozen times at the start and end of the day, while mindfully breathing 2-3 times during daily activities can provide progressive benefits with a little persistence. This involves being aware of the body form head to toe, and being fully present during each second of inhale and exhale, noticing any natural holds or pauses, areas of relaxation and tension in breath and body. Just taking brief times to do this, observe and be aware with a relaxed mind as it happens will bring its own results.

Many of us have characteristic breath patterns which reflect how we deal with stress as does the stress patterns evident in our posture and body tissue tension and sensitivity. Noticing pauses or momentary holds in the breath along with the quality of inhale and exhale will gradually open the breath naturally to a more rhythmical and deep cycle and calm the mind to wakeful alertness. Conscious breathing, sustained or regularly practiced as a momentary technique will naturally still the mind and energise the body promoting alert mindful awareness. These two conditions, a calm still mind and relaxed alertness or focus, are preparation for realisation of the nature of consciousness and therefore spiritual awareness.

The experience of inner body awareness using postures and controlled movement synchronised with breathing helps to ground us from ‘spacing out’ in such states, ensure we are practicing a balanced alertness of non-thinking consciousness. In this consciousness, awareness of breath, inner body experience and surroundings can then be all observed in equanimity. When the observer or the consciousness of the experience embraces the experience unconditionally in the moment, it is not defined or contained by it.

One of the first techniques of basic yogic breath is a three phase breath expanding the abdomen, then the chest or thoracic region, followed by the top of the chest or clavicular area with the inhale, noticing any pause before allowing each region in the same order to relax with the exhale. Try practicing this in your conscious breathing.

With practice as you feel more fully present in yourself after some conscious breathing you can also invite joy, love or peace fully into mind and body. These, along with illumination, compassion, goodness and beauty are natural qualities that can be tapped into in such calm, open and unified states. How simple and valuable then, can the breath be, in taking charge of developing more deep and authentic personal experience of these often sought after states.

Making a daily practice of conscious breathing enables us to employ such practice effectively before, during or after times we feel imbalanced, forgetful or reactive. in order to regain a centred and deep sense of being that was always there and never truly lost. Just notice what happens, not only to yourself but often to those around you, when you break a pattern of stress or reaction that would otherwise have run its course. Notice the change and then stay with the breath rather than creating a commentary of the gained insight and shift, thereby remaining present in your ongoing ‘nowness’.

When you are in mindful stillness, you are tapped into who you are as the source of thought and experience and not defined by them. Thus your awareness resonates more closely with the authentic self untainted by any one mood or situational context, closer to the formless and eternal self which can also be termed spirit.

May you continue in serene and energised conscious breathing.

Photo on Visualhunt with quote added

Winning the Most Important Battle with Love and Unity

The Battle Within

Both Mahatma Gandhi and Paramahansa Yogananda among other esteemed masters and teachers of India hold that the war of the Gita is the war within. There is a field called Kurukshetra (north of Delhi) where the battle is said to have occurred. Yet these great teachers insist in the Gita the field is an analogy for our mind and the battle one we must all fight within. The entire Gita poetically and profoundly narrates a conversation between Arjuna and his treasured lord and companion Sri Krishna during the legendary battle between a divided ruling family and their forces.

Much in the Gita supports this such as when Sri Krishna tells Arjuna the enemies he must conquer are lust, fear and anger. The dialogue between the two becomes a living truth when the principles covered throughout the discourse are applied to thought and action. The Gita concisely represents the essence of India’s ancient and timeless spiritual wisdom as well as teaching true yoga before it diverged into its many modern streams.

Life as Unity

Eknath Easwaranin his companion book The Essence of the Bhagavad Gita states that “the central message of the Gita is that life is an indivisible whole – a concept civilisation flouts at every turn”. The principles of unity and how to live with them in the Gita is the only way we can have abiding peace or live with one another and the planet in harmony.

Getting to the Root of our Problem

While Krishna’s initial response to Arjuna’s pleas of counsel in the battle field sounds hopelessly philosophical, instead of hacking at the branches of Arjuna’s issues (and our own) it goes to the root. As frustration leads to anger and eventually war or a cycle of crisis, it is only in understanding who we are and what truly satisfies us that can provide a basis for living together in peace and prosperity. The Gita presents the bottom line of all human dilemmas as a conflict between a lower self and a higher self. This is the dual nature of human and divine. Both Christ and Krishna embody the purpose, path and fulfilment of unifying this dual nature once the divine is given dominance. Yet the path is difficult and the aligning requires an artful approach to life and knowing ourselves.

Suffering and Awakening

With awakening comes a even deeper connection to others, greater understanding and compassion. Easwaran makes the distinction between those who suffer life’s hardships while dwelling upon themselves versus those who experience no separateness and experience suffering universally – “with such a vast field to absorb your capacity for sorrow, there is little left for dwelling on your own suffering” 1. A hallmark of the Gita (and a universal theme in spiritual traditions) is the two approaches to spiritually aligned living of contemplation and action. Victory over selfishness is through selfless service, where there are always things to be done to ease sorrow and suffering of others. (Note Gita 6:1).

Easwaran says: “The main problem with identifying ourselves [predominantly] with the body is that we spend our lives trying to satisfy nonphysical needs in physical ways” 2, such as through relationships based on separate needs, compensating for ego driven desires, needs and deficiencies or through material wealth, power, recognition for security. This can occur in all spectrums of human life from survival level to high levels of excess. Sri Krishna and the Gita would counsel that this is a bottomless hole because “that which is infinite can only be filled with something infinite”. The deepest drive within us, beneath appearances and conditioning, is for “direct, personal, experiential knowledge of the eternal reality that is within” 2.

Stress

Easwaran notes it is often not the circumstance or task itself that makes us stressed but the mind dwelling on our dislike, wishing things or people were different, making people wrong, while “always making ourselves the frame of reference” …. “stress flourishes in a divided mind” 3. He suggests that no one really knows what the external world really is, since what we experience is largely determined by our nervous system and mind. We create our own turmoil and the nervous system responds to our choices while we think we are reacting to things outside. (note Gita 2:14). “Events are just events, neither pro nor con, neither for us or against us. That is why the Gita says when we see life as it is, we see that there is no cause for personal sorrow. This one insight brings compassion and the precious capacity to help without judging or getting burned out” 4.

“This is practicing yoga on the surface of life” and “what begins as training attention becomes, in time, training of the will, and eventually desire” … unification of consciousness gradually moves, level by level, deeper an deeper into personality” 5.

Yoga to Unify self with the Divine

Most spiritual traditions agree, the little self will (ahamkara in sanskrit) or the ego is the culprit behind our difficulties, conflicts and sufferings. Yoga is about healing the ‘split’ consciousness and resolving the battle perceived through ahamkara. The word ‘yoga’ relates to the english word yoke; signifying binding together parts that have been separated. But yoga originally did not mean so much union of body, mind and spirit so much as “complete identification with the atman, [universal spirit within] which uses body and mind as instruments” 6.

The mark of healing the split between our true nature and identification with mind and body is unconditional love of life (Gita 6:29,32). Because there are countless problems and issues to work through, Sri Krishna says: “Don’t just try and tackle the problems the mind creates. Go to the root: tackle the mind” 7 (Gita 2:41).

Just like walking is a great skill that becomes unconscious, yoga as explained in the Gita, trains us in the experience of monitoring the lower mind from the higher mind, providing a higher level of feedback. Thus with training we can maintain balance when faced with anger, fear, negative emotions and thoughts. This does not impair feeling deeply, but removes compulsive and reactive responses so the mind regaining balance quickly is at its best in dealing with what is at hand. Easwaran recommends practicing doing little things you dislike or are uncomfortable with to “lower the like and dislike threshold” and gain a more balanced mind 8. Ways to do this are including less liked foods in your diet, prioritising chores at home or essential tasks at work that you tend to avoid, while affirming their benefits to others as you do them.

Becoming more “free to enjoy everything and equal to every situation” means “you have choices everywhere, so you never feel trapped: whatever the circumstances, you can break out”. The Gita says this brings a lasting joy long before yoga is perfected (Gita 2:40).

Through regular practice of yoga combined with right intent, the spiritual aspirant can achieve the goal of unification and become a yogi. “The ultimate goal of yoga is lofty, not at all easy to attain. Shankara says succinctly, “Yoga is samadhi*.” It is not just a matter for faith, although the first steps require it. Sri Krishna asks us to put the teachings to the test for ourselves and Arjuna finally rises to the challenge (Gita 18:73).

* Samadhi – direct experience of reality when the mind is still and settled in living realisation of the unified and consciously awakened state. Sahaja samadhi – continually established in wisdom or samadhi. The experience of unity in meditation and realisation must be experienced repeatedly for direct awareness to gradually become continuous. Sahaja samadhi is to live in samadhi in all creative acts and normal life moments, navigating challenges and successes without any disturbance of the unified state.

Recommended Reading:

Essence of the Bhagavad Gita -; A Contemporary Guide to Yoga, Meditation and Indian Philosophy, by Eknath Easwaran (Nilgiris Press, Tomales, CA, USA, 2011)

Quotes: 1. (p.64); 2. (p.73); 3. (p.164); 4. (p.165); 5. (pp.165,166); 6. (p.111);

7. (p.113); 8. (pp. 116,117);

God Talks With Arjuna: The Bhagavad Gita, by Paramahansa Yogananda (Self-Realization Fellowship, USA, 1999, Second Edition)

The Bhagavad Gita, translation & commentary, by Sri Swami Sivananda (The Divine Life Society, India, 2015, Fifteenth Edition)

Your Guide to Meditation and Conscious Wellbeing

 

The Twelve Principles of Meditation

A peaceful and calm mind, along with a peaceful and calm heart brings a sense of wellbeing, relaxed focus, and increasingly produces a feeling of happiness. Brain wave patterns, happy hormone production accompany many benefits to mind and body. With practice, as the sense of thought and body dissolve into an open and spacious fullness and stillness, a spiritual benefit arises as we learn to achieve a state of presence that is found rather than manufactured, that is beyond thoughts, feelings and changing perception. This state of unified consciousness is the real essence and preparation of true yoga practice and meditation which go further with focus.

“The Self is not the individual body or mind, but rather that aspect

deep inside each person that knows the Truth.”

Swami Vishnu-devananda, renowned Hatha and Raja Yoga authority

and Founder of Interntaional Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centres.

The state is best achieved by attaining steady observation of the mind in equanimity and calmness. With practice the benefits can be felt throughout the day and the meditation becomes the anchor point for continuous practice when in action. This is when we gain more freedom from reactivity, changing moods, stress responses, imbalance and disease. Meditation is showed to significantly reduce catabolic decline that accompanies ageing and assist in mental stability and wellbeing. In observing our inner life along with our outer life, we gain more choices in how to respond, so the doing and the being of living becomes a more conscious, progressive and enjoyable journey. We can feel more present and experience things more serenely and deeply.

The key to enjoying and developing this skill is to practice for the sake of practice. You just do it daily and let the results occur in their own time. Like sleep, meditation cannot be forced but allowed to happen. In the meantime it is a short time spent regularly for yourself that will eventually bare ‘flowers and fruits’ of immeasurable benefit.

It is not essential to still the mind completely as a beginner or even intermediate, so do not let ongoing thoughts discourage you. Sogyal Rinpoche, a renowned authority on Tibetan Buddhism, uses the analogy of letting your consciousness be like an old grandparent sitting calmly watching the children (your thoughts) at play. He also has used the analogy of sitting strong and stable, lower body a base and body still like a mountain, your mind the sky and thoughts clouds that come and go. Let them be and if they distract you, then when you realise it just let them be and come back to your practice.

Developing a calm mind is more likely with technique. Therefore a simple technique that provides a focus, synchronicity of breath focus and an inner object of concentration, is the best place to start.

There are many forms and styles of meditation, most of them eventuating in the same result. Swami Vishnu-devananda (pictured) formulated the following Twelve Principles which provide the key points in most meditation approaches and for beginners to achieve gradual results.

  1. Location – have a dedicated place where you practice regularly to build an atmosphere and place where you will quickly feel the right state with time.
  2. Time – choose a regular time once or twice a day, when you can switch off from daily concerns during your practice. Dawn and dusk are traditionally ideal times or early pre-dawn and last thing at night.
  3. Same time and location each day conditions the mind to slow down more quickly and deeply.
  4. Posture – spine straight and erect but comfortable. Use a meditation cushion for cross legged options can help align the hips and spine, or a firm chair where you can sit upright free of back or arm rests. Feet flat on the floor for chair sitting. Hands are best positioned in cupped the lap or palms up on the thighs where elbows are relaxed, and the shoulders a little back to open the chest slightly. The traditional meditation position is facing North, East or somewhere between.
  5. Instruct your mind to remain quiet for the duration of your practice. When thoughts do arise, observe them without attachment and maintaining focus as described in the following points.
  6. Regulate your breathing – start with three to five minutes of deep relaxed breathing, being mindful of each inhale and exhale without any forced holds, and then let it calm down into a natural rhythm. Build up to 30 minutes or more.
  7. Establish a comfortable contained pattern of gentle inhales and exhales of about three seconds each.
  8. Once you establish the breathing pattern, maintain this pattern consciously but also let the mind relax and wander a little as forced concentration will make the mind restless.
  9. Then choose a focal point either in the heart centre (anahata chakra) or between the eyebrows (ajna chakra). You may want to try a session on each until you decide which one is best for you then stick mostly to one location in your practice.
  10. Hold your attention in one of the above chakra (energy centre) points throughout the session while also moderating the breath as above.
  11. Allow meditation to come in glimpses and gradually more sustained periods. It will come when the mind is in a state of a clear non-verbal thought as you do your practice. Other sensations will occur which can be noticed and let go of like any random thought. You will still be aware of your practice without mental narrative or wandering.
  12. After long practice, duality of this from that, of the doer and doing, disappears and samadhi, the superconscious state is attained.

Some people who get agitated with a really active mind can include a mantra, like the sound of OM, to quietly repeat with each exhale and then, after a period of deep relaxed breathing, do silently within. This combined with the breath and point of focus at the anahata or ajna should help occupy the mind so it becomes more single pointedly focused and progressively relaxed. Otherwise the above points should be sufficient to build a good base with time and repeated sessions. There are various techniques to help calm the mind and focus that will be touched on in other articles. However, keep it simple at first and enjoy the journey the above approach will take you on.

Happy meditating!

Three Levels for Transforming Your Energy & Uplifting Your Consciousness

The three states of mind and energy are explained in Vedic philosophy. Vedanta is one of six schools of Hindu philosophy that reflects teachings in the Upanishads. These ancient texts are often referred to in Yogic philosophy and many sections contain very specific insights and instructions on the science of consciousness and awakening. The cosmology of Vedic science includes the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita and is embraced by traditional Aryurvedic philosophy and medicine of India. It includes three principles that can be very useful in understanding states of mind and developing a formula for transforming our energy, moods and emotions, and conditioning.

In Vedic cosmology, three principles or forces (called gunas) arose in the process of creation following the ‘big bang’. Undifferentiated primordial energy differentiated into tamas, inertia; rajas, energy; and sattva, law. It is the interaction of these forces that produced countless possibilities and combinations in the evolving universe. While pure consciousness remains forever undifferentiated, mind and body are products of the gunas which interact on a personality level as they do in the material universe.

Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita explains:

“It is the three gunas born of prakriti [the universal ground of the phenomenal universe and world] – sattva, rajas, and tamas – that bind the immortal Self to the body. Sattva – pure, luminous, and free from sorrow – binds us with attachment to happiness and wisdom. Rajas is passion, arising from selfish desire and attachment. These bind the Self with compulsive action. Tamas, born of ignorance, deludes all creatures through heedlessness, indolence and sleep.

Sattva predominates when rajas and tamas are transformed. Rajas prevails when sattva is weak and tamas overcome. Tamas prevails when rajas and sattva are dormant.

When sattva predominates, the light of wisdom shines through every gate of the body. When rajas predominates, a person runs about pursuing selfish and greedy ends, driven by resltelssness and desire. When tamas is dormant, a person lives in darkness – slothful, confused, and easily infatuated.” (14:5, 10-13)

So how does this apply to us?

Level 1

Tamas includes inertia, resistance and self justification, is characterised by the inner voice that says “Who cares?”, “What does it matter”, “ I can’t be bothered!”, “What does it matter if everything goes to hell!” and simply “I don’t care”. Also when we are in overwhelm and make situations and things bigger than ourselves, we often are up against our very own resistance. Tamas is the escapist in us that wants to avoid or run. Drowsiness, mental blocks and focusing on obstacles instead of solutions is another play of tamas.

Easwaran in his guide to the Gita called “Essence of the Bhagavad Gita” in explaining this cites not wanting to get up in the morning as a great warning that tamas is in ascension. He says it’s best not to weigh pro’s and con’s which plays into tamas’ hands, but flinging the covers away and leaping out of bed. It is Easwaran’s example of life consisting of small moments where we can transform inertia into energy – tamas into rajas – with decisiveness and action.

Level 2

Rajas enables us to get things done. When it predominates we are energetic, goal oriented, full of drive and passion. However, rajas is also the glue of attachment that can lock us into the pursuit of temporary pleasure, profit, status or power when imbalanced. When we can’t rest and get fixated on needed outcomes, when we are neglecting our inner selves and connection to life beyond ourselves, then balance is found in transforming rajas into sattva.

If we are not engaging our values and have a higher purpose in what we are doing then the task and the outcomes can only provide temporary satisfaction and fulfilment at best, while more often we can feel a sense of emptiness, stress and lack of fulfilment. When each day has meaning and purpose our intentions, state of mind and integrity in what we do become the art and fulfilment of our time and energy rather than just the outcomes. Transforming rajas doesn’t mean changing what we do as much as redefining a meaningful how and how we are doing it. An example is turning our intentions or ‘why’s’ into loving and compassionate ones. The ‘doing’ then becomes part of our own development and inner practice rather than being just a means to an ulterior end. We transform rajas by focusing how we are applying our convictions and values into our actions and adding value to others ahead of attachment to outcomes.

Level 3

In the sattvic state we are energised without being driven by time or self-centred attachments. People in this state are calm, clear, kind when under pressure, and compassionate in the face of provocation. Sattva is in play when we are of service, forgiving and moving through the bumps and bruises of relationships and life situations without being overly troubled or suffering. By stepping back from investment in outcomes and self-centred gains and focus on the quality and depth of purpose in why we are doing things. Sometimes obtaining this also requires looking at life balance.

Thus, the Gita provides a formula for transforming lower energies towards an active conscious life where forgiveness, forbearance, compassion and love come into play. In nature, the guna’s go through interconnected cycles according to natural laws without intervention of mind. As human beings we can utilise our will and higher mind to draw upon rajas to transform tamas, then transform rajas into sattva and balance. We can consciously utilise these dynamics for our own transformation. In his guide book, Easwaran clarifies Sattva is not the unified state of yogi’s but it is the foundation to move beyond guna’s into universal and unified consciousness.

The Wrap …

Each time we exercise decisiveness and will power to mobilise our inertia and refine our drives, we gain progressively ability to transform our own tamasic energy and consciousness independent of the energies and impacts around us.

Generally, we have rajasic minds – thinking a lot, working often stressed and performance oriented without conscious control of what the conditioned mind is really doing. We are planning, competing, achieving or coping and often frustrated.

In sattva we can calm the mind and gain control. The conscious inner journey shows us we don’t need to act on negative thoughts and states, nor even be affected by them. When we observe (without judgement or reaction) our resentments, jealousy, doubt and fears and not act on them, we can start to transform them into sattvic energy. Not acting on conditioned and negative thinking is definitely part of maturity.

The unconscious mind is chaos and tamasic – full of past clutter and often triggered into irrelevant or destructive tendencies. For most people, it is largely a dark unknown which is tamas. This energy keeps us swinging in cycles between the gunas and makes us fickle in loyalties and commitments. It is inner conviction, standing firm in our highest resolutions and values that steadies the mind and strengthens our ability to stand firm aside from negative inner states or difficult outer circumstances.

Conviction is a critical attribute to begin to consciously transform our energies regularly. Gradually unifying our desires and mind into a focused and harmonised energy, we can make our lives a conscious reflection of our highest truths and eventually a living work of art. Transforming tamas and rajas sets the stage for such a great accomplishment, of which sattvic mind and life is the launching pad.

Recommended reading:

Essence of the Bhagavad Gita – A Contemporary Guide to Yoga, Meditation and Indian Philosophy by Eknath Easwaran (The Blue Mountain Center for Meditation, Canada, 2011)

Also there are many good translations of the Bhagavad Gita itself. An excellent one for serious readers is:

God talks to Arjuna – The Bhagavad Gita – Royal Science of God-Realization by Paramahansa Yogananda (Self Realization Fellowship, Second Edition, 1999).

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