Radiance Point

Pods/Capullos

Mindful Practice

Among Yoga practitioners there are often enlightening discussions about the appropriate level of the practice or the right balance between the physical, mental and spiritual aspects of the practice. I believe that each person’s Yoga practice is a reflection of his or her own ideas, bodies, body histories, beliefs, emotional states, interests, etc. For instance, in asana practice, the practice with most easily observable external signs, closely watching two different people’s expression of the same pose or the same sequence of poses will reveal subtle and not so subtle differences. In addition, each person’s own practice varies from one day to the next. Some days we wake up feeling energetic and ready for a physical challenge and other days we feel like staying in shavasana (corpse or relaxation pose) the whole day. Of course, we are in charge of our own practice, that is, we are responsible for making mindful decisions about how our practice should unfold each day. Nevertheless, as humans, we have a tendency to want quick answers that work in all cases, rules of thumb that, particularly in this day and age, make us act more efficiently. Unfortunately, many times these rules of thumb become shortcuts that keep us from thinking. For instance, some times a physically demanding practice is exactly what we need to feel energized, whereas other times a restorative practice is the right thing to do given what we have planned for the rest of the day. In either case, being fully aware of how we feel and what we need is the starting point for a mindful practice, that is a practice that is perfect for what we need at that time.

Types of Practice

Mindful practice does not necessarily mean serious or boring. Mindful practice can be a lot of fun. An excellent example of mindful practice is the type of Yoga that Erich Schiffmann practices and teaches, often called Freeform Yoga. He gives a succinct and helpful explanation at the beginning of this video:

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However, if one feels compelled to practice according to a different structure, such as following the same specific sequence of poses every time, the practice can be done either mindfully or mindlessly. For instance, there are numerous examples of beautiful, intense and mindful Yoga practice following a tradition with a regular sequence of poses, like Ashtanga Yoga, as can be seen in this video with David Swenson:

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There is nothing intrinsic to the type of practice that will make it more or less mindful, more intense, challenging or fun than the other. Instead, in my opinion, it is the quality of our participation that makes the practice deep and intense. The depth and intensity of the practice are a result of the level of integration of body, breath, mind and spirit.

Radiance Point

My own way of seeing mindful practice in action is what I call reaching the Radiance Point. Some of the words associated with the idea of Radiance are delight, pleasure, joy, warmth, brightness and glow. In our asana practice, our expression of any pose moves along a continuum between softness and firmness and strength and flexibility. The Radiance Point refers to all aspects of the practice, breath, concentration, physical challenge. For example, we can choose to be in a pose with more softness than firmness, more firmness than softness or we can strike the Radiance Point, the perfect balance between softness and firmness. In other words, at the Radiance Point we are going neither beyond nor below our capacity and ability. The Radiance Point, most likely, almost certainly, will change from one day to the next, because it will be influenced by how well rested we are, what we ate recently, how we feel mentally and physically, etc. Obviously, the more we practice a certain pose, the Radiance Point will vary according to our evolving level of ability. We know that we have reached the Radiance Point in our practice when we experience a sensation of grounded lightness, balance, joy, delight and glow.

The Quality of Our Attention

We all practice Yoga for different reasons and with different objectives in mind. However, I assume that for all of us, our practice –whether it is expressed through asana, pranayama, Yoga Nidra, meditation, or any other way — regardless of the style or level of it, is a practice that leaves us energized, relaxed and balanced. The quality of our attention to the practice is what keeps it from becoming a mechanical repetition of techniques or poses. The quality of our attention, how mindful our practice is, helps us develop the sensitivity needed to fine tune and integrate the different aspects of our being to reach the Radiance Point. I think this is what Patañjali’s Yoga Sutra II.46 is about: Sthira-sukham-asanam, the pose is at the same time steady and comfortable.

Namaste

 

Open and receptive mind

Onions/ Cebollas

Everything is always the same

Do you ever get the feeling that life is just the endless repetition of day after day with very little variation from one day to the next? Many times it feels that life is just a succession of irrelevant actions that we perform mechanically. As a result, we often feel bored and it seems that our actions do not really matter. For some of us, these feelings can be devastating and paralyzing. Other people react by searching for extraordinary experiences that awaken a feeling of aliveness. There is another, easy option.

Opening to Newness

One of the reasons many of us find new places exciting and exhilarating is that visiting a place we have never visited before, besides offering new and interesting things to do and see, helps us shift into a state of mind where we are open and receptive. In this state, we sharpen our senses to register as many aspects of the new environment as possible. This is the direct result of being interested in experiencing the new place. Then, it is not surprising, that the new place seems to exude something special that makes us feel vibrant and energized. Although it cannot be denied that the specific place and its characteristics influence our response to it, the quality of our participation, in other words, our openness and receptiveness, contribute greatly to our experience of the place. Indeed, it often happens that repeated visits to the same place start to diminish our excited response to the place, and its special glow vanishes. In many occasions what is missing is the spark in our eyes that brings aliveness to our perceptions.

Beginner’s Mind

A mind that is open and receptive, and therefore unclouded by preconceived notions, is often called a beginner’s mind. When we think we know what awaits us, the sense of possibility is greatly, if not completely, extinguished. Making up our mind beforehand reduces our opportunities for learning because our attention and energy are engaged in comparing the new situation with our expectations. On the contrary, when we approach new situations, people and places with our minds and hearts open, we step into a state of boundless potentiality because our previous knowledge and conditioning do not interfere in the experience. This is actually one of the wonderful advantages of being a beginner. Moreover, the capacity for being in awe that we observe in many children and young people is largely a result of not deciding on the outcome of an experience before immersing in it. When we think we already know, we close ourselves to the possibility of learning and stagnate instead.

Mindful action vs. Mechanical Action

Given the inclination that our mind and body have for developing habitual patterns of behavior, it is not surprising that our beginner’s mind seems to fade away rather easily. Indeed, our ego’s need to feel in control tends to override the beginner’s mind, effectively replacing the feeling of awe and newness with one of overconfidence or under confidence –depending on the traits of our individual ego. As habit and conditioning convince our minds that we already know what will happen, our attention is drawn away from the event in which we are participating, preventing us from participating fully. When our attention is not completely focused on what we are doing, our actions become mechanical instead of mindful, and thus, we are unable to respond appropriately to the particular circumstances of that specific experience. In those cases, even when the results of our actions are what we expected, our lack of presence in the moment prevents us from truly appreciating what the experience is about.

Shifting into Beginner’s Mind

Fortunately, there are simple ways of shifting into beginner’s mind. The idea is to recognize that every moment, every here and now event, is a unique moment that has never happened before and that will never happen again. Even if the circumstances appear familiar, this moment is not the identical repetition of the past. Becoming aware of this uniqueness gives us the opportunity to be fully present. Here are some ways to shift from habitual mind into beginner’s mind:

  • While eating, pause and shift your spoon, fork or knife to the opposite hand.
  • While writing or drawing, pause and write with your non-dominant hand.
  • While brushing your teeth, use your non-dominant hand.

Of course, we can choose to see these changes as disruptions that slow down our efficiency. On the other hand, we can choose to view the resulting change in pace as a way to focus our attention on what we are doing. Many times, these shifts help us see the quality of our experience and its characteristics.
A less obvious way to shift into beginner’s mind is to pause, breath and observe the salient sensations in our body. By drawing our attention to the breath and the sensations we are experience we make a choice to be mindful, to be fully present. As a result, we are able to realize that every moment is unique in time and space. Consequently, we automatically shift into a state of mind where we are open and receptive to the uniqueness of the present experience.

Beginner’s Mind in Asana

In Yoga asana practice, every time that we assume that we ‘already know (or mastered) a specific posture’ we move away from mindful action and into the territory of mechanical repetition. Hence, we effectively close ourselves to the possibility of learning that results from mindful action. Not to mention, that we close ourselves to experiencing the pose because our attention is absent from the process. In contrast, approaching any posture (even one we have practiced on many occasions) with an open mind gives us the opportunity to learn something new, about the pose and about ourselves simply by acknowledging that the pose is unique. Focusing on the sensations and the breath has an important side effect: it makes it harder to injure ourselves, because our mindful curiosity and exploration with new eyes and fresh mind helps us pay attention to the feedback we constantly receive from body, breath and mind.

In Yoga asana practice, we can try something simple such as:

  • In a pose like mountain or downward dog, close your eyes, feel the salient sensations of the pose, then shift your body weight to the left side of your body, close your eyes and again feel the sensations, noticing any differences. Open your eyes and shift your body weight to the right side, close your eyes, feel and compare. Then find the perfect balance between the sides, feel and compare.
  • In a familiar pose, lengthen the inhalation or exhalation focusing on the most noticeable sensations resulting in the ribcage area.
  • In a familiar pose firm up the muscles in your arms, legs and torso and feel the resulting sensations. Then make the muscles as soft as possible while remaining in the same pose, feel and notice.

Life is an ongoing ever changing flow of events and circumstances that unfolds in unique ways to respond to the variations of the myriad participating elements. Life in itself is vibrant because it is never the same. Therefore, mechanical actions result in lifeless results. Whatever method works for you, I hope that activating your beginner’s mind brings a refreshing perspective on your world.
Namaste,

Rubén

 

Asana, Nidra, Pranayama, Chanting and Meditation

Many people associate Yoga mostly with physical movement. However, Yoga is much more than physical exercises. Yoga is a complete system of practices that creates a deep-rooted sense of stillness and awareness. However, very often there is not enough time in a regular class to explore multiple techniques in more depth. I feel that it is important to give Yoga students opportunities to deepen their practice by exploring traditional Yoga techniques.

I will offer a special class this month, The Total Yoga Experience, a 3.5 hour long class that helps students move progressively inward. The class includes Asana (movement), Yoga Nidra (deep relaxation), Pranayama (breathing exercises), Chanting and Meditation (focused attention and sustained attention). My goal is to use these techniques to help students integrate breath, body, mind and spirit to find deeper clarity, relaxation and awareness.

I will offer the class at two different locations in Tampa:

  • Sunday, May 18th from 1:30 to 5pm at Namaste Yoga Studio (813) 505-1850
  • Saturday, May 31st from 1:30 to 5pm at The Soul Mirror (813) 964-1156
  • If you live in Tampa, I hope you get a chance to try this class.
    Namaste.

     

    Relaxing at the end of the day

    Icon/ Icono

    In these times when it seems that our lives continue becoming busier and busier, relaxing at the end of the day is much needed. Here is a simple and easy suggestion that might help you let go of the day and release stress.

    Preparation

    This pose can be practiced upon arriving home or in preparation for going to sleep. Place a folded blanket on the floor against a wall. Take your shoes and socks off and wear comfortable clothing.

    Legs up the wall – Viparita Karani

    Legs on the wall \ Piernas en la pared

    • Start sitting on the folded blanket with your knees bent, your feet flat on the floor and the wall to one of your sides (either left or right) so that the outer side of your hip joint is close to the wall.
    • Using your hands for support, recline on your back while lifting the legs up and turn so that the back of your thighs are resting on the wall.
    • Make sure that your lower back and the back of your pelvis (sacrum) are in contact with the floor. Allow your arms to rest on the floor beside you with your hands separated one foot away from your pelvis. This is the pose, legs up the wall – Viparita Karani. (See the picture above).
    • Now, we’ll use our breath to relax and to bring awareness to the pose. Without making any changes, notice the subtle movements of your breath. Notice the sensations that accompany each movement of the breath. Do this for several rounds of breath.
    • Gradually, focus your attention on the exhalation. For several rounds of breath, each time you exhale let the thoughts in your mind drift away.
    • Now, focus on the inhalation. Deepen your inhalation without forcing while observing closely the sensations in your body.
    • Notice if there are any specific sensations in your body that require your attention as your continue breathing comfortably.
    • Close your eyes and let go of any control over your breath. Just relax.
    • Stay in this pose for several minutes.
    • When you feel ready to come out of the pose, mindfully bend your knees toward your chest.
    • Roll to one side and slowly come into a comfortable sitting position.
    • Take a deep breath, notice any differences in how you feel now as compared with how you felt before doing this practice and enjoy the rest of your day.

    An alternative option

    If ,for any reason, the pose does not seem comfortable, you can do this practice resting on the floor with your knees bent and your legs supported by a chair as indicated in the image below.

    Legs on chair \ Piernas en la silla

    Either pose can also be an excellent way to relax your legs and lower back after walking or after spending a long time standing up or sitting.

    Taking time at the end of the day to relax, gives us the opportuny to connect with our inner silence, so that our minds and bodies can release tension and get a well deserved break. Many people find that doing this exercise before going to sleep help them sleep more soundly.

    Have a wonderful practice!
    Namaste.

     

    10 minute Yoga practice

    Movement / Movimiento

    If you would like to practice at home, here is a 10 minute practice session that can be adapted and modified according to your needs. (If you have not read the disclaimer yet, please do. )

    Suggestions

    Read the suggestions and the instructions and print the diagram for reference. Keep in mind these suggestions that may help as you practice:

    • Use ujjayi breathing throughout the practice.
    • Synchronize your movements with your breath.
    • Make each pose a perfect balance between relaxation and stability.
    • Keep in mind that that there is never pain in Yoga practice.
    • Remember to relax your face, gaze and shoulders.

    The practice

    1. Centering – Start lying down on the floor on a folded blanket or Yoga mat with your knees bent, your feet flat on the floor and your arms resting by the sides of your torso. Let go of whatever is not in the present moment by focusing on the natural rhythm of the breath, noticing your level of energy, and paying attention to any sensations that emerge. After a few breaths, switch from natural breath to ujjayi breath for both the inhalation (IN) and the exhalation (EX) without forcing.
    2. As you inhale lift your arms up, taking the arms over and down to the floor by the sides of your head. On exhalation return your arms to the initial position. Repeat 5 times.
    3. Apanasana – On exhalation, lift both feet off the floor rest each hand on its corresponding knee and bring both knees toward your chest without forcing. Inhale pushing your knees gently away from the chest. Repeat 4 times.
    4. Dvipada Pitham – Return your feet and arms to the floor. Align your heels with your sitting bones. As you inhale press both feet firmly on the floor and lift your hips and arms. When the hips reach the highest point the arms reach the floor by the sides of your head. On exhalation, return the arms and hips to the initial position. Repeat 4 times.
    5. Chakravakasana – Roll around bringing your shinbones to rest on the floor and draping your front torso on your thighs while stretching your arms out in front of you. Separate your hands as wide as your shoulders and spread your fingers while pressing them on the floor, this is extended child pose. On inhalation press the hands on the floor and come to your hands and knees keeping the knees directly under your hip joints, flatten your upper back and look forward. On exhalation, return to the extended child pose. Repeat 4 times.
    6. Vajrasana – From extended child pose bring the backs of your hands to rest on the back of your pelvis. As you inhale lift the ribcage and arms and come to standing on your knees with your arms lifted over your head. When you exhale return to the modified child’s pose with the hands on the back of the pelvis. Repeat 4 times.
    7. Ekapada Ustrasana – Lift from child’s pose to standing on your knees, bring the right foot forward so that the right heel is directly under the right knee. Rest your right hand on the right thigh while allowing your left arm to hang by your side. Inhale bending the right knee and lifting the ribcage and left arm up. On exhalation, return to the starting position. Repeat 4 times and then repeat 4 times with the left foot forward.
    8. Tadasana – Stand straight, with your feet firmly planted on the floor, keeping the body weight equally balanced between the front of the feet and the heels. Also, balance the body weight between the left foot and the right foot and allow your pelvis to be level, that is, not tipping forward or back. Soften the shoulders and roll them back and down. Take 3 deep breaths and feel the sensations in your body.
    9. Urdhva Hastasana – From Tadasana, inhale lifting both arms up in front of you as far as it is appropriate for you. Remember to keep your shoulders relaxed and maybe try to initiate the movement from your navel. On exhalation, return to Tadasana. Repeat 4 times.
    10. Ardha Chandrasana – From Tadasana, inhale lifting your arms to the sides and up, as you exhale tilt your pelvis to the right side taking the right hand and arm towards the right thigh while keeping the left arm moving over the head and to the right side. Inhale lifting both arms up and exhale tilting your pelvis to the left while taking your left hand and arm down towards the left thigh. Repeat 3 times.
    11. Ardha Uttanasana – From Tadasana, inhale lifting the arms all the way up over your head. On exhalation tilt forward at the hip joints leading with your chest while opening the arms to the sides until your torso is parallel to the floor. If you feel tightness in the back of your thighs bend your knees to release tension as you fold forward. Inhale returning all the way up and on the following exhalation return to Tadasana. Repeat 4 times.
    12. Virabhadrasana I – From Tadasana, inhale taking a comfortable step forward with your right leg and lift both arms up. Press firmly with both feet on the ground, exhale bending the right knee towards a 90 degree angle. When you inhale press the right foot on the floor straightening the right leg. Repeat 3 times. On exhalation return to Tadasana.
    13. Ardha Utkatasana – From Tadasana, inhale lifting both arms up (Urdhva Hastasana). As you exhale bend your knees as far as it is comfortable. Inhaling, press both feet on the floor to return to Urdhva Hastasana. Repeat 3 times. On the final exhalation, return to Tadasana.
    14. Sukhasana – Sit on the floor with your legs crosses for 3 full breaths, noticing the sensations in your body.
    15. Urdhva Prasarita Padasana – Recline onto your back resting your hands and arms on the floor alongside your body. Bend your knees and lift your feet of the floor. As you inhale, lift both arms up continuing the movement until the arms rest down on the floor by the sides of your head. At the same time stretch your legs up to the sky. On exhalation return to the starting position. Repeat 4 times.
    16. Jathara Parivarttanasana – Inhale spreading your arms to the sides at shoulder level while keeping the knees bent. On exhalation keep your shoulders in contact with the floor while dropping the knees to the right side. Inhale returning the knees to the center and on exhalation drop the knees to the left. Repeat 4 times.
    17. Apanasana – On exhalation, lift both feet off the floor, rest each hand on its corresponding knee and bring both knees toward your chest without forcing. Inhale pushing your knees gently away from the chest. Repeat 4 times.
    18. Savasana – Lie on your back with legs straight and heels 2-3 feet apart and your arms resting on the floor, each hand a foot away from the body and the palms facing up. You can also lie on the floor with your knees bent and the arms to the sides and the palms facing up. Relax completely, letting go of any control over breath and body. Rest observing your breath quietly for at least 12 rounds of effortless spontaneous breath.

     

    Diagram of 10 minute Yoga practice

    10 minute Yoga practice/Practica de Yoga de 10 minutos

    Make it YOUR Practice

    This sequence is only a suggestion. Of course, since Yoga is a path of self-learning always adapt and modify the poses and the number of repetitions so the practice is perfect, not too much and not too little, for you. This can be a good way to start practicing at home and to supplement any classes you attend regularly.

    Noticing the effects

    See what happens when you practice 2 or 3 times a week for 3 or 4 weeks. Observe how you feel before and after your practice. There might be differences at the physical, mental and emotional levels. What do you notice? Do you feel different in any way? What does your practice do for you? Do you notice any differences in how you feel or behave during the day? Do you feel that you have more or less energy? Does practicing affect your mood or the way you sleep?
    Answering these questions gives you insight on your practice and on its relationship to your every day life.

    I hope you enjoy your practice!
    Namaste.

    Simple guided meditation with Rubén

     

    Inspired Practice

    Arboles/Trees

    Ujjayi breath

    One type of breathing that is especially helpful in focusing our attention is called ujjayi. Ujjayi, meaning victorious, is a type of breath in which we constrict gently the back of the throat. Ujjayi breathing produces a sound in the throat similar to the sound of the ocean. Using ujjayi breath during asana practice helps to anchor our attention on the continuous and smooth movement of our breath.

    Learning

    The easiest way to learn ujjayi breath is to:

    • Open the mouth and breath through the mouth as if trying to fog a mirror in front of us, the sound is clearly audible in the back of the throat
    • Relax the neck, soften the jawbone and mouth and breathe like this a few times until it feels that the breath is flowing smoothly
    • Gently bring the lips together
    • Keep breathing smoothly through the nose while listening to the sound of your breath
    • Check that no tension is emerging in the face or neck

    Movement and sound

    When learning ujjayi breath, there may be a tendency to make the sound of the breath louder than it needs to be. Keep in mind that we are using the sound for focus and feedback, so just make sure that you can hear it. As we become familiar with this way of breathing, we can allow ujjayi breath to become the main axis of our asana practice. In other words, we anchor the practice on the integrity of the breath, always paying attention to the quality of each inhalation and each exhalation. When the flow of breath is firmly established, we can choose to let the breath initiate the movement for optimal synchronization between physical movements and the movements of the breath. In essence, if we cannot hear the movement of our breath there should be no physical movement.

    Ujjayi advantages

    Using ujjayi breath in asana practice has numerous advantages:

    • Focuses our attention on the present moment
    • Helps us verify that our breath is smooth and continuous
    • By constricting the passage of air, it helps to strengthen our lungs
    • Gradually increases lung capacity
    • Strengthens our abdominal muscles
    • Helps to improve concentration
    • Brings a meditative quality to our practice

    As in any other aspect of Yoga practice, there is no need for forcing our breath when performing ujjayi breathing. Ujjayi breath should always have integrity, i.e. the breath is not forced, or strained, and it does not collapse either. On the contrary, our ujjayi breath should feel comfortable and smooth throughout the practice. Using ujjayi breathing helps us develop awareness of and sensitivity to the qualities of our breath, thereby fostering awareness and sensitivity in our Yoga practice. Moreover, bringing our attention to the breath gives us insight on our own physical, mental and emotional states. As a result, we become better able to adjust our breath to suit our needs and circumstances in our Yoga practice and in every day life.

    Enjoy the sound of the ocean in your throat the next time you practice Yoga.
    Namaste.

    P.S. For an excellent article on breathing:
    http://www.movingintostillness.com/book/yoga_breathing.html

     

    Breathing Awareness

    Ocean/ Mar

    Two oceans

    We can think of the earth as being surrounded by two oceans, an ocean of water and an ocean of air. The perpetual movement of these two oceans is the result of the interaction between the energy of the sun and the energy of the earth’s gravitational pull. The movement of these two oceans is essential to life as we know it. Similarly, the movement of air in and out of our body is the most evident manifestation of the circulation of energy that keeps us alive. It is not surprising that there is a whole set of practices in Yoga, known as Pranayama, dedicated to bringing our awareness to the breath. Developing awareness of the connections between our breathing patterns, our body, our mind and our emotions can help us develop a better understanding of who we are and of how we act.

    Breathing as the focal point

    If we understand Yoga as a journey of self discovery that integrates the actions of our breath, body, mind and spirit in order to be fully present, then it seems appropriate to find a central element to anchor and guide our Yoga practice. One of my favorite Yoga teachers, Erich Schiffmann, says in the beautiful video Ali Mac Graw Yoga Mind & Body, that the breath is the single most important element in Yoga practice. Given our mind’s inclination to focus on past or future and our body’s proclivity to develop habits, it makes a lot of sense to anchor our practice on the breath because the breath can only exist in the present moment. In addition, focusing on the breath as the main element in Yoga practice helps us remember that the quality of our life experience is closely connected to the quality of our breath.

    Observing the breath

    The easiest place to start is to observe our natural, spontaneous breath. An easy way to do this is to lie on a folded blanket on the floor with our back resting comfortably against the floor, our head aligned with the rest of the body, our knees bent and our feet flat on the floor. Closing our eyes we rest our attention gently on the movements of our abdomen as it rises and falls with each inhalation and exhalation. We do not need to change anything in the way we are breathing; we just lie there witnessing the breath, noticing any sensations, emotions, thoughts and feelings that emerge in the process. We can try this for 8 to 10 rounds (each round consisting of one inhalation and one exhalation). This can be quite relaxing.

    We can continue the process of exploring our breath by gently, without forcing, deepening our inhalation and exhalation. As we observe our breath we might notice that sometimes the inhalation/exhalation is not smooth but irregular and uneven. In such cases, it is helpful to breathe more slowly and softly until the whole breathing process is as smooth as possible. Again, we can take this opportunity to notice any sensations associated with different ways of breathing. As we deepen our breath some questions may start emerging, such as am I breathing correctly? Should my inhalation start in the chest or in the abdomen?

    Breath integrity

    When those questions emerge, one viable way to finding answers (besides asking our Yoga instructor) is to explore the options that we have. For instance, we can breathe normally for a few rounds of breath, and then we can initiate the inhalation in the lower abdomen for some rounds of breath, noticing the differences in the sensations that result. Then we return to spontaneous breathing. We can try different ways of breathing, always paying close attention to how we feel as a result. As we explore our breath we start noticing patterns and how breathing in specific ways helps to create different sensations.

    A useful guiding criterion for choosing how to breathe is integrity. In other words, when our breath has integrity, it feels energizing and nourishing. Furthermore, when the breath has integrity it feels whole, unimpaired and unobstructed with neither inhalation nor exhalation collapsing. Obviously, it is important that we adjust our breath to the requirements of what we are doing. Consequently, in some cases, the breath may need to be more energizing while in other cases we may need for the breath to be calming and relaxing. However, even though the characteristics of the breath may change, breathing with integrity will ensure that the breath is supporting our actions.

    Developing more awareness of the connections between the breath and how we feel can be useful in choosing the best way of breathing in particular situations. I hope this is helpful to start exploring your breath and to become more aware of the connections between your breath, your state of mind and your emotions.
    Namaste.

     

     

    Yoga and diet

    Mercado/ Market

    Food Confusion

    Eating is a privilege not available to all the people in the world. It is promising to know that more people are working to bring awareness to these issues. Many of us are fortunate enough to be able to choose what we eat. However, in recent years, deciding what to eat seems to have become a complex task. Partly, the complexity may indicate that there are more food choices and also a grwoing interest in issues related to food, eating and health. For instance, there are excellent blogs devoted to issues related to choosing our food like What to Eat, The Ethicurean and Eat Local Challenge, as well as increasing numbers of books dealing with food and nutrition, such as The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, What to Eat, as well as numerous others. And that does not include the growing list of books related to food allergies or the ever changing offering of diet books. When there is so much information, making informed choices can be a daunting task.

    A simple question

    What to eat? is a very simple question with growingly diverse and complicated answers. Perhaps, the complexity of the answers increases when we consider the multiple levels of relationships between food and the world around us. In other words, when we pause to consider the relationships between us, our food and the world around us we start to understand that those relationships are multilayered and often far from simple. As we learn more about food we find that there are significant issues related to the safety of the food we eat, its origin, and what it consists of. The immediate connection between food and health, however, continues to draw our attention. For instance, the fact that food allergies have increased 400% in the last two decades should make us think about the food we eat. Moreover, according to the World Health Organization a combination of changes at the global, social and personal levels influences diet in ways that result in increased chronic diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, hypertension, stroke and some forms of cancer (some of these diseases are also known as “Western Diseases” because of their connection to the typical diet in industrialized countries in the Western hemisphere). Although some academics have recently suggested that the effects of the epidemic of obesity are exaggerated, the trends in the U.S. indicate significant changes worth considering. According to the World Health Organization “obesity has reached epidemic proportions globally.” Besides, specific eating habits and food industry practices have significant ecological impacts that also need to be considered.

    Michael Pollan’s most recent book, In Defense of Food (based on his article Unhappy Meals), provides a simple answer to the question what to eat to maximize our health: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants“. Pollan’s clarification of his simple answer –which makes up his book, indicates that eating for optimal health has become complicated partly due to the deep web of connections between the food industry, marketing and the food politics of our times. Pollan’s proposes a set of rules of thumb that help readers clarify what is considered food, what food to eat and also how to eat it. As the author acknowledges, the existence of his book is a testament to our confusion about eating.

    Yogic Diet

    Figuring out what to eat for optimal health is not a new concern. From the perspective of Yoga, the oldest classical surviving text on Hatha Yoga, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika (15th century CE) indicates in chapter 1, verses 59 through 65, the foods that Yogis should avoid, the foods that are beneficial and the appropriate amount of food to eat. When looking at some of the numerous online resources about Yoga, it does not seem that any of these resources refer back to the Hatha Yoga Pradipika regarding food and diet. This is understandable, partly because of differences due to time and geographic location, and partly because there are certain practices advocated by the ancient treatise (although not necessarily the ones related to food) that seem rather extreme and perhaps inappropriate. In general, contemporary resources note that the Yogic diet is a vegetarian diet. However, when you read a definition of vegetarianism a number of labels emerges: ovo-vegetarian, lacto-vegetarian, lacto-ovo-vegetarian, veganism, fruitarianism, raw veganism. Moreover, the food section of the Yoga Journal includes articles about vegetarianism, veganism, raw food, and also advise on being a caring carnivore.

    Labels and Questions

    Instead of clarifying the issue, looking at Yoga sources for clues about food and eating may compound the confusion in answering the simple question “what to eat?.” It seems to me that everywhere we look we find different labels that determine (with varying levels of flexibility) what we can, should and cannot eat.

    I feel that Yoga is about bringing clarity into our lives. Indeed, our Yoga practice aims to optimize the flow of our physical, mental and emotional energy so that we can participate fully and consciously in the interconnectedness of life. Indeed, our Yoga practice does not consist of a predetermined set of rules that we need to follow mechanically. On the contrary, Yoga practice requires us to pay attention, be mindful and make intelligent decisions that are based on our vibrant connection with life. It follows that the yogic approach to eating should take into account our individual circumstances and needs while facilitating the optimal flow of energy and enabling our full participation in life. Nevertheless, in case of doubt, I would suggest using two questions to confirm our food choices:

    • Does the food I am about to eat optimize the flow of my physical, mental and emotional energy?
    • Does the food I am about to eat help me participate fully and consciously in the interconnectedness of life?

    If the answer to both questions is a clear and unequivocal YES!, it is quite likely that the food we are about to eat is exactly what we need and thus will be delicious, nourishing and life affirming.

    Namaste

     

    Is there somebody else practicing Yoga on your mat?

    Lluvia/Rain

    Is there somebody whispering in your ear?

    I recently remembered a video about Ben Zander, a truly inspirational teacher. In the video (at 3:10)



    he says that, generally, a musician on stage is not alone, that there are two people on the stage, one trying to perform a musical piece and somebody else who whispers in the musician’s ear: “you didn’t practice enough….do you know how many people play this piece better than you do?…….here comes the part that you messed up the last time…” and many other disruptive words.

    When we practice Yoga on the mat, we may find disruptive voices emerging in our practice. For instance, we may hear our personal assistant who continually goes over a list of phone calls, appointments and pending tasks, or the cook absorbed in planning the meal we’ll have after practice, or the competitive coach urging us to outperform ourselves or the person next to us, or the image consultant striving to bring our attention to the style, color and appropriateness of other people’s attires.

    This is the most important moment

    In the video, Zander underscores the importance of being present when he says: “This is the moment, this is the most important moment, right now”. I wholeheartedly agree. Indeed, I feel that there are no other moments. We are here and now and we cannot be anywhere else.

    In another video (2:10)



    Zander says that a total transformation takes place when we see that “we have been hiding, taking ourselves away, not taking risks by sitting in the back row of our lives”.

    To me, the transformation Zander talks about is activated by being fully present. Immersing ourselves in the present moment makes us realize that all the voices that try to draw us away from this moment are keeping us from seeing clearly that every moment brings with it the knowledge and resources needed to respond in a life-affirming and most appropriate way to its specific questions and challenges. Thus, it is essential that we are attentive to this moment.

    Befriend your body and mind

    In my opinion, Yoga practice is an appointment we create with ourselves so that we can learn more about who we are. However, our minds and bodies, with ther inclination to follow habits, may sometimes be disruptive, bringing our attention away from the present moment. Although exerting control is one possible, but not very conducive, approach to focusing our attention, I prefer Vanda Scaravelli’s approach. Vanda Scaravelli wrote in Awakening the Spine, we must give our bodies: “clear directions dictated not by ambition, duties or reactions, but by precise and lucid perception of what we feel. If we are sensitive to the requests of the body, it will responde spontaneously in an unexpected, effortless way. We must create a relationship, make friends with our bodies as well as with our minds.

    Thus, instead of seeing our body and mind as potential obstacles that need to be controlled by force, we can choose to befriend our body and mind so that we can enlist their help to support our intention of learning and developing sensitivity. Paying full attention and being curious to learn is enough motivation to be fully present. As a result, our yoga practice helps us discover and integrate the myriad relationships between body, breath, mind and heart. When there is integration there is no room for distraction, there is only room for doing things for real. When this happens, even for just one second in one pose, the practice is transformative as we see the possibility of expanding this approach to everything we do. Consequently, everything we do becomes the best expression of who we are and, thereby, it will be unique, genuine, creative and innovative.

    The next time you feel that there is a distracting presence sharing your mat, choose not to take a back seat in your practice and gently invite your mind and body to contribute that energy into the process of self-discovery. As we practice this more and more, we will become better at participating fully and actively in our Yoga practice and, perhaps, also in our lives.
    Namaste

     

    Clear Vision

    Row of Buddhas/Fila de Budas

    Visual Clutter

    Our eyesight helps us understand, navigate, interact with and participate in the world. Often, venturing out into the world offers us an encounter with what some people call visual pollution, particularly in urban areas:



    However, visual clutter is not constrained to outdoor spaces. As the presentation The Story of Stuff shows, many of us own too many things. Hence, the growth of self-storage, organizing and junk removal businesses. If we have more stuff, it is quite likely that we’ll have more visual clutter. Although, I agree that some clutter gives a home personality and character, too many things in our field of vision become distractions that compete for our attention. Of course, anybody browsing the web is aware of the prevalence of visual clutter on many websites.

    Focus

    One way to deal with visual clutter is to maintain focus on one object to ignore competing stimuli. There are numerous Yoga techniques aimed to improve our ability to focus. There are also useful techniques to relax the eyes and develop concentration at the same time. But, sometimes we might notice that even with our eyes closed we continue to process visual information. Just as we argued in the previous post about silence, it is important to withdraw our minds from processing information all the time. This is what I call visual silence.

    Visual Silence

    Although we rest our eyes during our sleep, resting our eyes during our waking hours brings multiple benefits to our health, to our concentration and to our sense of peace and relaxation. These are the steps to practice visual silence in 5 minutes:

    • Turn off any potential sources of distraction and interruptions like telephones, TV, stereo.
    • Dim the lights, or turn the lights off and light a candle(s).
    • Place a folded blanket on the floor. Lie down with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor, arms resting on the floor alongside the torso, palms of the hand down.
    • Make yourself as comfortable as possible.
    • Exhale deeply without forcing.
    • Close your eyes gently.
    • Rest your attention on your right eye. Without thinking, analyzing or judging, just observe any sensations on your right eye.
    • Relax the muscles around the right eye and allow your right eye to release tension and sink down gradually.
    • Keep your attention gently focused on your right eye. If any internal images emerge allow them to drift by.
    • Stay with your attention resting on your right eye until your right eye feels as relaxed as it can be.
    • When you feel ready, shift your attention to the left eye.
    • Notice any differences between the two eyes.
    • Allow your left eye to release any sensations of holding.
    • Relax the muscles around your left eye.
    • Keep your attention on your left eye, allowing the eye to be restful.
    • When you are ready, focus effortlessly on both eyes and enjoy the feeling of relaxation for as long as you like.
    • Open your eyes gradually, allowing time to adjust gradually.
    • Notice any differences in your eyesight and in how your eyes feel. You might notice that your mind and breath also feel more relaxed and restful.

    As usual, I would suggest that you try this technique, for 5 minutes a day, for one or two weeks paying attention to any effects you observe.

    Results

    As a Pratyahara (sensory withdrawal) practice, the visual silence technique frees our minds from the processing visual information continuously. This practice teaches us to relax consciously, resulting in physical and mental relaxation and clarifying our vision and our way of seeing.
    Namaste