Slowing Down for Greater Awareness

Fountain Statue/Estatua en la fuente

According to the Yoga Sutras (II.28), the classical text on Yoga, the various Yoga practices enumerated by Patanjali gradually result in diminishing impurities, blockages and obstacles while at the same time unveiling greater knowledge, clarity and awareness. Thus, integrating these practices into our lives helps us gain a better understanding of ourselves so that we can discern between what is essential and what isn’t. One possible application of this is to use that greater clarity to affirm our connections to the ever-present, ever-changing web of life all around us. In this post a simple suggestion to increase our level of awareness.

Formulas

In our daily lives we often recognize patterns in our circumstances, actions and their consequences. When we are pleased with the outcome of a particular set of actions in a specific setting, the next time we find ourselves in a similar situation we feel inclined to repeat our previous actions in order to replicate our desired outcome. This is a rational and effective way of learning. Consequently, over time, through trial and error, we create useful formulas or scripts to guide our actions toward the results we expect. Along the way, whenever it is possible, we generalize our observations so that our formula or script can be applied in more situations and contexts. Gradually, we gather these formulas to help us navigate many situations and to move through life with more ease.

Acting mechanically

Many times we use these formulas or scripts to save time, because by using them we feel as if we don’t need to analyze, as we regularly do, our setting, conditions and intentions before taking action. The longer we use a formula, we are more likely to ignore the particulars of a specific situation and assume that the formula will render the expected outcome. However, when the formula we have developed, learned or inherited is applied mechanically, that is without being mindful of our circumstances, needs and options, we might be surprised when our, previously effective formula, does not lead us to the results we have grown to expect.

Usually, the transition from mindful application of our formula to its mechanical use unfolds very gradually, almost imperceptibly. A simple example might help us see this more clearly. For instance, in asana practice, our useful laboratory for experimentation with self-awareness, we may notice that a particular sequence of poses seems to always have a beneficial result on our body, breath, mind or spirit. So we choose to practice the sequence diligently and with honest effort over a period of time. However, as time goes by, since our previous experience indicates the effectiveness of our sequence, or because we feel that we already know the sequence and how to perform it, we assume that we already know the outcome of our actions and focus on the outcome instead of paying close attention to the moment-to-moment experience of the sequence. As a result, we may overlook the feedback we receive constantly from breath, body, mind and heart during our practice. Thus, we choose, consciously or unconsciously, to give up our ability to respond to the particular aspects of the present moment experience, perhaps with unexpected outcomes that may not be necessarily beneficial. In some cases, obtaining unwanted or painful results motivates us to return to mindful conscious action in our practice.

Gradually cultivating imbalance

Many of us frequently feel that the pace of our lives keeps getting faster and faster, or that our lives keep getting busier every day. It is not surprising that many of us want to find shortcuts and formulas to help us save time. In many cases, we move toward mechanical action to save time by not having to pay attention to our moment-to-moment experience. For instance, when we need to walk from point A to point B, we just walk without paying too much attention to the details of the task at hand, because we need to get to our destination. Consequently, we may not be able to notice that we might be putting more weight on one foot or leg than on the other, or that we twist our pelvis slightly to one side with every step. As we repeat this action over and over again, we gradually, and unconsciously, cultivate a physical imbalance. Furthermore, that strong focus on results usually requires that we ignore the feedback we constantly receive at all levels, in our breath, bodies, hearts and minds. Hence, it is not surprising that, in order to capture our attention, the feedback we receive tends to grow louder, gradually moving from mild discomfort towards pain.

Slowing Down

As it was mentioned at the beginning of this post, Yoga, through a wide range of techniques, helps us move towards greater clarity and awareness. One simple way to increase our clarity is to cultivate our ability to observe. When something moves fast, it is difficult for us to perceive with clarity the event and its characteristics. Slowing down our actions gives us enough time to notice what is happening because it forces us to pay attention to what we are doing. As we mentioned before, we can start by focusing our attention on our breath as a way to immerse in the present moment. Then we can observe the complexity of even the simplest action. For instance, slowing down considerably our pace when walking will help us notice with greater clarity the way we lift each foot the ground, how we move the leg and foot forward and we plant the foot on the ground again. As we continue this process we can compare the two feet. We can also notice how the pelvis, shoulders, arms and head move with each step. In this process we may start recognizing patterns that affect our gait and its level of ease and smoothness or lack thereof. Then we can choose consciously if there is anything we need to do to make our gait better. Along these lines we previously suggested to slow down our pace when eating to enjoy our food more and to improve our health, which aligns with some of the ideas in the slow food movement.

Slowing down in controlled settings

It seems we find ourselves at a crossroads. On one hand there are multiple demands on our time, energy and attention, requiring of us to focus on results, thus ignoring the minute details of life around us. On the other hand, slowing down seems to be a good way to gain a better understanding of our circumstances and actions, thereby facilitating a more mindful participation in life.

Clearly, slowing down all of our actions is not practical for most of us. However, slowing down the pace of some of our actions can be an excellent way to focus our attention on what is truly important. My suggestion is to continue using our Yoga practice as our laboratory for exploration. Slowing down the pace in our asana practice is a simple change that works at multiple levels. It can help us notice where we tend to be less mindful. It also requires us to breathe more consciously, thus improving our connection with the breath and perhaps even our breathing capacity. In addition, it may help us notice where different aspects of our practice need more integrity. In addition, slowing down our pace, strengthens our mind by making it stay focused on the myriad aspects of every pose. Moreover, practicing at a slower pace helps to improve our patience and can make our practice safer as we are paying closer attention to the feedback we receive from breath, body and mind. Finally, all of these benefits will eventually start emerging also beyond our yoga mat.

I hope these ideas are helpful in your journey towards greater clarity.

Namaste

 

Special Classes: Total Yoga Experience and Pranayama, Mantra, Chanting & Meditation

Total Yoga Experience: A journey to deep inner peace – April 18

This is a unique class that guides you progressively inward. The class includes Asana (movement), Yoga Nidra (guided relaxation), Pranayama (breathing exercises), Japa (chanting) and Dhyana (Meditation – focused and sustained attention). The goal of this class is to integrate the actions of breath, body, mind and spirit to find deeper clarity, relaxation and awareness.

The Total Yoga Experience is a 3.0 hour long class that helps you immerse yourself in a complete Yoga practice without physical exhaustion. This class is appropriate to students of ALL levels. This practice is an integrative exploration of diverse traditional Yoga techniques. This is an excellent class for students to become more familiar with various Yoga and meditation techniques . For more experienced practitioners, this class provides an excellent way to deepen and strengthen their practice.

The Complete Yoga Experience consists of:

* Asana- physical postures that synchronize movement & breath
* Nidra- guided relaxation for deep release and clarity
* Pranayama- breathing exercises for focus & concentration
* Japa – chanting for breath awareness & concentration
* Dhyana – meditation, sustained focus & concentration for stillness

Date: Saturday, April 18/2009
Time: 2:00pm a 5:00pm
Length: 3.0 hours
Cost: $35
Contact: TheSoulMirror@aol.com
Phone: (813) 964.1156
Location: The Soul Mirror – www.thesoulmirror.com
Address: 2025 West Bearss Avenue – Tampa, FL 33618 – map

For comfort and individualized attention there is a limited number of students, register today!

Pranayama, Mantra/Chanting & Meditation – April 25

Discover how you can use these tools to move towards greater self-awareness!

In this workshop we will explore:

* How better breath awareness assists you in life
* 5-6 traditional yoga breath practices
* Synchronizing breath & Chanting with movement
* 3-4 yogic chants
* 3- 4 Meditation Practices
* This workshop will end with a practice that integrates all three disciplines

This workshop helps you practice a variety of traditional Yoga techniques. This is an excellent class for students to become more familiar with various Yoga and meditation techniques. For more experienced practitioners, this class provides an excellent way to deepen and strengthen their practice.

Date: Saturday, April 25/2009
Time: 2:00pm a 5:00pm
Length: 3.0 hours
Cost: $35 Advanced registration/$40 at the door
Contact: info@stpetersburgyoga.com
Phone: (727) 894.YOGA
Studio: St Petersburg Yoga – www.stpetersburgyoga.com
Address: 275 16th St. N. – St. Petersburg, FL 33705 – map

For comfort and individualized attention there is a limited number of students, register today!

Acceptance: A step towards being present

Limonada fresca

Observing our mind

Centering our attention on the present moment is important in order to flow in harmony with life. However, our minds very quickly tend to get distracted. Try this: For one full minute sit comfortably and observe the second hand of a clock advancing, second by second to the next minute. Pay attention to every single second. Observe your mind. Most of us will notice that our minds quickly move away from this simple task. For instance, we might find that we start recalling something that happened earlier today or a few days ago, or that something around us sparks a chain of thoughts away from this present experience. We might also notice our tendency to start planning activities for the next few minutes, the rest of the day or of the week. Our mind, is doing its work, that is, the mind is processing the information it receives from the senses.

Processing information

We process information by establishing connections between what we perceive and something that we know already. In other words, our mind uses the ideas, sensations, emotions and feelings stored in our memory as a frame of reference that helps us understand, navigate and store the experience in which we are participating. Using the information we have stored previously is an important skill. However, sometimes we tend to change our memories, or to create memories for a variety of reasons, such as to make our choices seem better or to cover up trauma or to avoid facing uncomfortable truths. In other words, our memories may not reflect accurately past actions or events; yet this does not preclude us from attaching specific value to these memories as a measure to determine when something is good, bad, excellent or terrible. Here a challenge emerges.

The challenge

As Marshall McLuhan indicated, “When faced with a totally new situation, we tend always to attach ourselves to the objects, to the flavor of the most recent past. We look at the present through a rear view mirror. We march backwards into the future.” One way of interpreting this insight is that we use our memories to decipher and understand our new experiences. Consequently, our memories influence the way we approach new situations. For instance, as we enter a new moment, we look for similarities between this moment and our previous experiences. As we compare this moment with our memories, regardless of how accurate those memories might be, we tend to ascribe a value to each experience. Subsequently, we proceed to decide which experience we find more positive or valuable. This process is certainly important as it can help us learn from previous actions. However, as we saw previously, our minds tend to mold and change our memories for a number of reasons. Hence, our memories might not be very accurate.
The challenge emerges when we allow our memories to become our model of “the way things should be.” Because once we feel we know the way things should be, we become reluctant to stay in the present moment and, instead, we keep comparing the current experience to another time and place, real or imagined. Every time that we compare our experience we are moving outside of what is and into what should or could have been. Often, the result is that we enter into conflict with the present moment. It is not uncommon to reject this moment because the experience is not exactly what we remember, what we hoped for or what we imagined.

When we observe our thoughts, actions and reactions, we might catch a glimpse of our mind and notice if our mind is judging, rejecting, reacting or accepting the present experience. For instance, often as we practice asana, a particular type of breathing or a specific meditation, we start the practice with a preconceived notion about how it should go, even when the specific technique might be completely new to us. Frequently, if the outcome does not meet our expectations, we immediately criticize ourselves or berate the practice or our experience. When we start noticing this pattern of thought we are taking the first steps to move beyond this challenge.

Observing

Our Yoga practice provides numerous techniques to strengthen the mind so that we can observe whatever we are doing. However, frequently the role of mind in yoga practice can be overlooked. During Yoga practice we need our mind to be actively present, engaged in the moment, observing our circumstances, observing our actions and our thoughts. In our yoga practice, regardless of what type of practice we are doing, movement (asana), breathing (pranayama), concentration (dharana), chanting (japa), and meditation (dhyana), we continually witness, staying with the present moment, doing what we are doing. Centering our attention on our breath is a simple and very effective way to stay in the present moment. As a result, we can notice how the moment is, and instead of reacting by judging, or criticizing, we can choose to accept the experience as it is. It is helpful to recognize that our current circumstances are the result of innumerable factors, most of them beyond our control. Without accepting this moment we can’t understand with clear mind what is happening and what we can learn from it. Once we accept and understand we can immerse in the experience guided by our breath. This is vital in order to take the appropriate steps here and now to honor our essence fully and thence move towards a clearer and truer expression of our selves.

Acceptance of the present moment helps us stay open and to learn by recognizing that each moment is unique, even when the activity seems familiar or similar to something stored in our memory. As a result, we can flow harmoniously with life, doing the best that we can, no more, no less.

Namaste!

Simple guided meditation with Rubén

 

Yoga and Relationships

Discover how to move towards balanced and fulfilling relationships

Using the transformational power of Yoga to remove habitual patterns of thought and action, in this workshop we will combine a variety of yogic techniques on our journey toward balanced, joyful and loving relationships.

In this workshop we will learn how to:

  • Explore asana as a tool for reflection on our actions & thoughts
  • Move toward personal balance & integration
  • Apply mindfulness, breath, edge work and meditation to enhance the quality of our interactions with others
  • Move from mechanic action to love inspired action to enter balanced, fulfilling & life affirming relationships

Date: Saturday, February 14/2009
Time: 2:00pm a 5:00pm
Length: 3.0 hours
Cost: $35 Advanced registration/ $40 at the door
Instructor: Rubén Vásquez, registered with Yoga Alliance.
Studio: St. Petersburg Yoga – www.stpetersburgyoga.com

Address: 275 16th St. N. 33705, St. Petersburg, FL – map
Phone: (727)-894-YOGA

 

This workshop is geared to creating personal clarity and balance and to prepare ourselves for meaningful participation in relationships. It is not required to attend as a couple. However, if both persons in a relationship are interested in attending together, their experience can be quite beneficial!

 

Setting your New Year’s Intention

Golden columns/Columnas doradas

Feedback

In Yoga, the traditional techniques and practices are oriented to an inward journey of self-discovery. As we travel this path of continuous learning we develop our ability to notice and observe the feedback that emerges as a response to all of our actions. By developing our sensitivity to feedback, we can fine tune the quality of our connection to the world around us so that we can notice that every single action generates a reaction. However, many times our actions are habitual or automatic, and thus less than mindful. In those cases, we might fail to recognize that the feedback we receive is a direct response to our actions. For instance, let’s say that we need to drive somewhere when we don’t feel well rested. Let’s say we choose to drive, in spite of the subtle feedback from our body indicating that we need to rest. As we are driving, we may notice our eyes feeling a bit tired, but we decide to override this feedback by continuing to drive. In response, the self-adjusting feedback mechanism will automatically create a stronger message to draw our attention to what we are doing. As we continue driving we might feel that we are unable to focus our eyes clearly. Ignoring the feedback does not make it go away; instead it increases the strength of the message. So, as we continue driving our eyes may close for a brief moment. If we decide to stay on the road we may doze off and perhaps wake up as our car swerves slightly or abruptly. Choosing to ignore the feedback we receive can result in being forced to pause so that we can consider the effects of our actions.

The feedback itself is not necessarily good or bad, it is just the effect of our previous actions. That is, the feedback we receive is not passing judgment on our past actions, it only communicates to us the effects of those past actions. The objective of feedback is to get us to pay attention to our actions so that we can choose our actions intelligently. In our Yoga practice, asana, pranayama, concentration and meditation, we learn to listen with undivided attention to physical, mental, psychological and emotional feedback because it provides important guidance in our personal journey as well as in our interactions with others and with the world around us.

Forced to Pause

The feedback process operates at personal, interpersonal, societal and global levels. At this moment, in my opinion, we are witnessing feedback in the form of turbulence and turmoil at many levels throughout the world. Again, it seems important to emphasize that the feedback is neutral; it is not good or bad per se. What is important is to understand that the feedback is giving us an opportunity to observe our actions clearly and to notice their effects so that we can act mindfully and intelligently. As the year begins, my suggestion is to take advantage of this transition, first to gladly accept the opportunity to pause and second to use this opportunity to gain clarity about our circumstances and our options.

Yogic practices are oriented to help us gain clarity by immersing ourselves into the present moment and connecting with our essence. Our essence is our true substance, that which is truly constitutive of our selves. Everything that is not our essence is temporary, accidental, impermanent, not necessary. According to the Yoga Sutras we tend to confuse what is essential and what is not. Wisdom is learning to distinguish between the two. In my opinion, when we take actions that honor our essence, the feedback we receive increases our clarity, well-being, peace and joy. I also believe, that life affirming actions benefit all who are involved.

Setting our Intention

As you might be aware, the path of Yoga is experiential. Here is a practice that can be helpful in gaining clarity so that we can direct our attention and energy toward life affirming actions at all levels.
The idea of simplicity as it was so eloquently and beautifully said by Paramahansa Yogananda can provide inspiration and guidance along the way:

“Simplicity means to be free of desires and attachments, and supremely happy within…It entails neither hardship nor deprivation, but the wisdom to work for and be content with what you truly need.”

With simplicity in mind and heart:

  • Sit comfortably with your spine erect and your chin level.
  • Close your eyes
  • Reflect on your past actions
    • Honestly look at your actions in the past year and ask yourself:
    • What actions took me out of balance?
    • What actions made me feel confused, angry, upset?
    • What actions brought peace, joy, balance and meaning into my life?
  • Release
    • Breathe calmly with long, soft exhalations
    • Each time you exhale let go of a previous actions that took you out of balance or made you feel confused, angry or upset
  • Be grateful
    • Breathe calmly with long, soft exhalations
    • Continue breathing softly with long inhalations and exhalations
    • Each time you inhale ask yourself what am I grateful for?
    • Each time you exhale, give thanks from your heart
  • Set your intention
    • Continue breathing with long, soft inhalations and exhalations
    • Each time you inhale set your intention to honor your essence by performing actions that bring peace, joy, balance and meaning into your life this coming year
  • Keep your eyes closed, continue sitting and observe how you feel so that you can remember to keep this connection to your essence alive and strong throughout the year

I hope that your New Year is filled with joy, love, happiness, meaning and excellent health.

Namaste

 

Gratitude Meditation

flowers/flores

Giving thanks is a way to remember that our situation in life is in some, or in many ways, privileged. It will probably not take long for us to find countless examples of other people who may be in more challenging or difficult circumstances in their lives. Being grateful is a way to express our appreciation for the gifts we have received. In other words, expressing gratitude reminds us that we are constantly participating of the interconnectedness of life, that is, we are not alone. I feel that this is reason enough to feel comfortable and happy.

Many of us feel that meditation is a very complex and esoteric practice. However, meditation is just a way to experience who we really are, right here and now. Here is a simple and easy gratitude meditation that can help experience the happiness and joy of being alive.

  • Sit in a comfortable position, if possible with your spine erect but not rigid.
  • Close your eyes.
  • Allow your breath to flow at its own pace.
  • Listen to your own breath for a few rounds of inhalation and exhalation.
  • With each exhalation let go of whatever is not part of this moment.
  • If you notice any tension in your body, for instance in your shoulders, face or anywhere else just let go of it as you exhale.
  • As you feel ready, ask yourself if there is anything in your life to be thankful for. You don’t need to think too hard or concentrate too intensely, instead let the question resonate with your whole being.
  • You may find that some reasons start emerging into your consciousness without effort. In case nothing seems to come to mind, notice if there is anything in your immediate life that you appreciate, such as the ability to breathe, sleep, smile, feel, taste, laugh, love. Feel the sensation of gratitude and remain aware.
  • Remember to also give thanks for obstacles, challenges and difficulties, because they provide us with opportunities to learn about ourselves and about others.
  • Each time you give thanks, draw a gentle smile on your face.
  • Allow your gratitude to expand gradually out into the whole universe.
  • For the last few seconds immerse completely in the sensation of gratitude.

Notice how you feel. You might feel relaxed, renewed and more in contact with yourself and with the world around you as you practice this meditation. You can practice this meditation for just a few minutes or longer if this feels appropriate. If possible, I would suggest trying this meditation for 2 weeks, just for a few minutes each day, and noticing its effects throughout the day. You can also take short ‘gratitude breaks’ during your day by pausing for a few moments to express your gratitude as it feels best for you.

I hope you find this practice helpful and enjoyable.
I extend my heartfelt thanks to you.

Namaste

Simple guided meditation with Rubén

 

2 simple techniques to deepen your Yoga practice

Temple Portal in Ubud, Bali/Portal de un templo en Ubud, Bali

Consistent Yoga practice produces a significant change in the quality of our breathing. We start noticing that our breath becomes more smooth, unobstructed and deeper when we practice Yoga mindfully and with regularity. Although this is generally true when we practice various of the traditional limbs of Yoga, this change is most easily observed in our asana practice. The 2 techniques I would like to suggest are related to observing closely how we breathe. These techniques build on the foundation of breath awareness and on the benefits of using ujjayi breathing. The objective of these techniques is to guide our attention inward and to focus our awareness to our present actions. As a result, the quality of our participation increases, leading us to immerse more fully in our Yoga practice. In turn, this facilitates our more present participation in our daily activities.

Focused Breathing

The first technique is to concentrate our attention on the sound of the breath. An easy way to direct our attention to the sound of our breath is by using ear plugs during our practice. Using ear plugs makes the sound of our breath more noticeable which also helps us focus our attention inward. For most of us, noticing more the sound of our breath may not prevent our mind from wandering. However, it will be easier to notice when the mind gets distracted and therefore we can choose to return our attention gently to the breath. In many cases, just feeling the ear plugs in will serve as a reminder to listen attentively to the breath. Eventually, consistent practice strengthens our capacity to focus, and then the ear plugs will have achieved its function and will no longer be needed.
This technique is an integration of pranayama and sense withdrawal (pratyahara).

Increased Sensitivity to Breath Movements

Once it becomes easier to observe the breath consistently, we can try to develop a greater sensitivity to the movement of the breath. The second technique further deepens our attention by focusing on the subtle aspects of breathing, specifically by observing the transitions between inhalations and exhalations. As we observe with clear attention the continuous movement of breath, we focus on the brief pause between inhalations and exhalations and vice versa. Noticing and focusing on this brief pauses often increases our breathing capacity. Most importantly, it also increases our awareness, thus bringing a meditative quality to our practice.
It is important to remember that the breath at all times continues to be smooth and unrestricted. As we practice this technique we can explore the effects of slightly lengthening these pauses.
Focused attention on the pauses between inhalation and exhalation integrates aspects of pranayama, pratyahara, concentration (dharana) and sustained attention (dhyana)

Like with any other techniques, we observe our practice before and after using these techniques and we notice how each technique works and if it has any beneficial effects.
I hope these techniques are useful to deepen your practice.

Namaste

Simple guided meditation with Rubén
 

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

 

The gift of silence

sunset in Koh Lanta/atardecer en Koh Lanta

“In the attitude of silence the soul finds the path in a clearer light, and what is elusive and deceptive resolves itself into crystal clearness.” Mahatma Gandhi

Noise

Many of us associate the holidays with giving and receiving gifts. However, if you feel that you already have enough stuff, you can still give yourself a gift that is positive, transformational, free and truly priceless. The gift I am talking about is the gift of silence.
We live surrounded by numerous sources of sounds and noises. It can be argued that we live in an increasingly noisy world.

In addition to the growing number of sound and noise sources in our surroundings, the level of loudness is increasing also. Here is a brief and eloquent example of what is called loudness war:

It is not surprising that many of us feel that there is too much noise around us.

Pratyahara

One of the limbs of Yoga is called pratyahara. Some authors, like T.K.V. Desikachar (in The Heart of Yoga), and A.G. Mohan (in Yoga for Body, Breath, and Mind) talk about pratyahara as a practice in which we withdraw our minds from processing the information perceived by the senses. Pratyahara, calls our attention to the importance of taking a break from constant processing of sensory stimuli. Most of us find that our minds are continually jumping back and forth, with external sensory information contributing to distract us even more. This is where pratyahara can be a gift that we can really appreciate. There are numerous techniques conducive to practicing pratyahara, the gift of silence is a very simple one.

The technique step by step

It is important to notice that hearing a sound is a process. The sound is emitted by an external source and is received internally by our hearing organs. Once we register the sound, we proceed to process the sound in different ways. Thus, the gift of silence is a practice that requires actions at both levels, external and internal.
First, to give yourself the gift of silence, you create a clear intention to find silence for 5 minutes a day.

  • Set your intention to allow silence to emerge for the next 5 minutes, even in the midst of seemingly uncontrollable noise.
  • Pause whatever you are doing.
  • Notice the sources of sound/noise in your immediate environment. Then you consciously turn off those sources, such as radio, TV, mobile phone, computer, ipod, etc.
  • After removing the external noises, observe if there is an internal process that continues producing “mental noises”. Often these noises are incomplete thoughts floating in our minds. Instead of trying to turn those “mental noises” off, we simply notice them and allow them to drift away. This is generally much simpler than one thinks, because the string of incomplete thoughts can be quite incoherent. Any time a new source of noise, internal or external, emerges notice it and let it fade away.
  • Notice all the different sounds that contribute to the sensation of noise. Perhaps you can start by listening for distant sounds, but do not try to identify or concentrate too much on any particular sound. Just acknowledge the sound and continue moving your attention gently from one external sound to another.
  • Notice that as you focus briefly on one sound the other sounds seem to fade away.
  • Gradually move your attention to closer sounds.
  • Eventually you notice the sounds closest to you.
  • Without changing anything notice the sound of your own breath.
  • Then open to hear all sounds at once, it seems paradoxical, but amidst all the sounds you might find that you are in perfect silence.
  • After 5 minutes, you can choose to turn on whatever sources of sound you wish to hear.

The results

It happens often that we feel a sense of tranquility and clarity as we immerse in the experience of silence. Consequently, sometimes you might feel that you want to continue the experience of silence for a little while longer. To see if this practice makes sense, and if it is useful to you, set your intention to try it everyday for 2 weeks without interruptions. Also, pay attention to any changes you notice as you continue practicing. For instance, you may find that observing silence helps you think more clearly, feel more relaxed and notice patterns of behavior that cause you to be distracted. Sometimes we find that immersing in the experience of silence can help us while we do your daily activities.
Giving yourself the gift of silence plants a seed for powerful transformation. This is a gift that does not cost anything and does not require a specific setting, instruments or equipment. This is a practice that can be done at any time and that can help us focus, reflect and relax.

Namaste

Simple guided meditation with Rubén

 

 

Reasons to celebrate

Pine needles/Agujas de Pino

Holiday stress
It is not uncommon that the holiday season brings with it conflicting feelings. The holidays are rituals that invite us to change our routine activities and to get together with family and friends to celebrate. Changing our daily routine gives us a chance to see our usual activites from a different perspective. However, we can also interpret these changes in our habitual actions as annoying disruptions or stressors. In many cases the changes to our activities place extra demands on our already busy schedules. So, even if we do not see the holidays as a disruption it is quite likely that some tension and stress may arise. I think the list of reasons for these apparent contradictions in the holiday celebrations can be quite long, from feeling lonely and disconnected, to the regret of overindulgence in consumption of food, drink and stuff. I often talk to people who can’t wait for the holiday season to be over.

Ask a question
Just like the holidays have conflicting facets, a time of joyful celebration and a time of stress and tension, our Yoga practice can also be seen as a celebration of life or a practice that depletes our energy .
When we practice Yoga as a celebration of life, our practice helps us acknowledge, honor and immerse in life as it is, here and now. How do we do it? We pause and ask ourselves: Why do I practice Yoga? What is my intention in practicing Yoga today? Then we listen intently for the answer to come from our innermost essence. When we make this genuine answer the guiding intention for our practice, our Yoga practice unfolds exactly as we need it that day, some times expressed as a restorative practice, other times as a very physically demanding asana sequence and yet other times as a contemplative practice. In every case the practice is a life supporting response to our needs.
Similarly, we can pause and observe our reactions when the stores start dressing their windows with holiday themes, when holiday catalogs start crowding our mailbox and as we make plans for the holidays. Observing and acknowledging our reactions to the holiday season prepares us to ask ourselves questions such as: How do I feel about the holidays? What are my reasons for celebrating the holidays? After we ask our question, we wait silently for the answer to emerge unclouded by judgment. When we are ready AND open to receive the answers, they manifest as clear thoughts, words, feelings or emotions. We know the answers are authentic when they resonate with us deeply. Genuine answers remain, even after deliberate examination, unequivocally clear.

Live the answers
The clarity of the answers make them powerfully compelling. Consequently, we can choose to turn the answer into wholehearted intention that provides guidance for our actions, so that we celebrate in ways that are appropriate and congruent with our deep beliefs, needs and circumstances. By setting aside our preconceived notions about the holidays, we are free to make our participation in the holidays our authentic expression and perfect response to our specific circumstances. As we live the answers, we can still pause, observe and reflect, noticing if the same feeling of clarity from the answer continues to pervade our actions and interactions. In this way our participation in the holidays can be a joyful celebration of life.

Namaste

Simple guided meditation with Rubén