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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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
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.
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.
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.
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.