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

 

 

The quality of our participation

Ancient astronomic observatory tool/Artefacto antiguo de observacion astronomica

Multitasking Required.
Although various studies indicate that multitasking slows us down, it seems that multitasking continues to be prevalent . Now it seems that we are often in multitasking mode, talking on the phone while driving, working on multiple projects at once on the computer, for instance checking e-mail and listening to a podcast while we work on a specific task. It is not surprising that multitasking does not seem conducive to learning. However, more and more, job descriptions indicate that experience with multitasking is required. But is multitasking bad in itself? Multitasking, more than working on several tasks at once, is shifting our attention from one task to another.

Multitasking and Yoga
It could be argued that practicing Yoga asanas is a form of multitasking. When we practice a Yoga pose, we continually shift our attention from what we are doing with different parts of our bodies, to our breathing and also to maintaining our awareness fully in the current experience. For instance, sometimes in Yoga classes teachers give very detailed instructions for some or many of the moves. This requires our attention to remain focused. However, keeping our focus on the actions of the breath, body and mind throughout a full practice can be quite demanding and even mentally exhausting. One way our minds deal with these demands is by tuning out some of the instructions, thus avoiding feeling overwhelmed. When our multitasking in Yoga goes well, however, all of our actions integrate, flowing harmoniously and resulting in a vibrant and energizing feeling. If we are unable to integrate all our actions, the outcome may be less felicitous, for example, our mind may get distracted thinking about something else, which may not have a fully negative outcome, unless the distraction happens while we are doing something that truly requires our full attention, like standing on our heads.

Immersing in the experience
Thus, it seems that multitasking can go both ways, depending on its effects on the final outcomes of what we are doing. We can say that multitasking is positive when it enhances the quality of our experience and negative when it detracts from it. Consequently, one possible approach for discriminating the type of multitasking we are engaged in is to observe the quality of our participation. In general, it seems that when we are wholeheartedly engaged in any activity, the multitasking that takes place helps to deepen our attention into what we are doing, thereby further enhancing the quality of our participation. On the contrary, multitasking that draws our attention away from the activity may be an indication that we are not fully immersed in the experience, and that perhaps we are looking for something more interesting or engaging. In those cases when our participation is perfunctory or mechanical, does it even make sense to participate at all? Maybe, we can use a very simple way to confirm that our multitasking is bringing our attention to the present activity. Any time we notice that we are shifting to a different task, we can pause, observe and question what our multitasking is doing, is it helping (by integrating) or hindering (by distracting) the quality of our participation. Answering this question can really help us participate fully in our actions.

Namaste

Trying too hard and finding flow

Flowing on bikes/Fluyendo en bicicleta

Earlier this week I read a brief interview with Shiva Rea , a well known Yogini, teacher and activist. In the interview, Shiva Rea talks about the most common mistake that beginning Yoga practitioners make and gives advice for beginning students.

The most common mistake
Trying too hard, according to Rea is the most common mistake that beginning Yoga practitioners make. I would add that this is a challenge for other Yoga practitioners as well. Many of us live in highly competitive societies. As a result, we may bring the same competitive drive into many areas of our lives, including our Yoga practice. In my opinion, that competitiveness leads us to assume that we should be able to do more today than yesterday or last week. The competitive mindset takes us out of the present by pushing us to emulate or surpass our previous ‘accomplishments’.
Rea suggests to keep the feeling of centeredness on your own experience to overcome this common mistake.

The advice
In the interview, Rea points out that, as beginner students of Yoga, we may already be familiar with the experience of Yoga, particularly when we are fully relaxed and present in our current experience. As Rea also notes, “Yoga is just a matter of tapping into something that’s already a part of you”. I guess the underlying advice is to be open to the experience of Yoga by allowing it unfold from a state of relaxation instead of trying too hard to make something happen –which immediately takes us away from the now experience by drawing our attention to some abstract goal. In my opinion, this is related to what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his book Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life refers to as Flow, in other words, being fully immersed in the activity you are performing. From Csikszentmihalyi’s perspective the experience of Flow seems to be enabled by having clear objectives, listening to feedback and finding the balance between level of challenge and level of ability. In my opinion, these elements of the experience of ‘Flow’ are encompassed by the Vinyasa Krama approach.

Advice into practice
In a previous post I mentioned that the Yoga Sutras of Patañjali say that the state of Yoga is reached through the combination of persistence and detachment. Since trying too hard can be a sign of our attachment to the expected results of our actions, we can find a practical approach to combine persistence and detachment in our Yoga practice, and perhaps in our everyday experiences. First, since the breath happens only in the present moment, paying attention to the breath focuses our awareness on the present moment and circumstances. Second, in the Yoga Sutras persistence requires practicing sincerely. Thus, still with our awareness on the breath, we use our inhalation to clarify our motivation and intention. Third, we can use our exhalation to relax and let go of any attachment to the results of our actions. Instead, we can focus on being curious about the outcome of our actions, which serves also as feedback for the subsequent action.

To immerse ourselves in the experience of Yoga, we simply let go of our expectations, giving ourselves permission to discover, by observing attentively the feedback we receive in our body, breath, mind and spirit. Paying attention to the breath can really help us focus and participate fully into our here and now experience. Applying these ideas into something simple, like performing a Yoga position, may help us prepare for participating more fully both in the Yoga practice on mat and in any other activity.

Namaste

One step at a time – Vinyasa Krama

One step at a time/Un paso a la vez

Doing more
It happens often that we try to do more than we can or that we push ourselves too much. Living in a society that asks that we give our 110% all the time puts pressure on us to go beyond our capacity and ability. However productive that strategy might be, it is not sustainable. Nevertheless, many of us allow that mindset to permeate many, if not all, aspects of our lives. It is, thus, not surprising to find that we end up stressed out and feeling overwhelmed because, even when things are going wonderfully, we feel that we could still “do more”, “be more”, etc. This seems to be a present conundrum for many of us, and it is not uncommon to see the same situation in Yoga classes. We are so oriented to the future goal and to our need to achieve, that we are not fully immersed in the process, thereby ignoring our present circumstances and becoming increasingly dissatisfied.

Vinyasa Krama
There is a sound, logical and elegant principle in Yoga called Vinyasa Krama that can provides guidance that can be implemented in multiple facets of our lives.
According to A.G. Mohan,
in Yoga for Body, Breath, and Mind, Vinyasa Krama “means intelligently placed, orderly steps.” In other words, Vinyasa Krama consists of an intelligent and appropriate progression of steps that takes us in our intended direction. Let’s take a look at this idea in more detail.

Intention
In Yoga, we align our intentions with our innermost essence so that we can honor our intentions through life-affirming actions. In some cases our intention can be as simple as being able to relax more easily or deepening our understanding of something. When the intention comes from our heart, we understand that we have minimal control over the ultimate outcome of our actions. Therefore, we know that it is useless to feel tense and worried about the results. Consequently, we can devote our energy to being the best expression of ourselves in the particular action that we need to take.

Starting point
As in any other activity, once our intention and goal are clear, the next step is to recognize our starting point so that our clear intention can guide our actions to take the most appropriate steps for our current situation.

Step by step
Breaking down the journey into smaller steps can be useful in realizing that the goal may not be as unreachable as it sometimes appears. In addition, by working on the smaller steps consistently we develop the knowledge and skill necessary to take each successive step without wasting our energy reaching beyond our capacity or ability. Furthermore, dividing a task into smaller steps becomes a built-in safety mechanism, because it helps us to progress gradually at our own pace while allowing us to make any necessary adjustments or corrections. Moreover, as we take each new step successfully, our confidence grows further removing unnecessary tension and doubt.
In addition, working mindfully at each stage of the process gives us insight into how we learn and how different approaches work in various ways.

Example
A typical example that comes to mind in asana (physical postures) is the sequence of poses known as Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskar in Sanskrit). At first, many students new to Yoga find the whole sequence long, complicated and seemingly impossible. However, breaking down the sequence into its constitutive poses makes it easier to learn how to perform each pose safely and appropriately for one’s body. In the process of practicing the individual poses we learn to focus and to breathe comfortably while we allow our bodies to develop the necessary combination of strength and flexibility to practice the poses without harm. As the poses become familiar, it becomes easier and easier to string a couple or a few of the poses together, until, gradually, the body, breath and mind are ready to perform the sequence without any pain or discomfort.

The Vinyasa Krama principle makes our Yoga practice safe and enjoyable by breaking large tasks intelligently into manageable steps aligned with our intention. This principle is easily applicable into our daily lives, to help us become mindful of how to use our energy in constructive ways by working gradually and consistently over time without becoming tense, stressed or getting exhausted in the process.

Namaste.

Beginning

Morning sun rays through haze

After thinking about it for a few months, I have finally decided to get a blog going. In the past years I have enjoyed (and learned from) readying blogs as varied as my interests. In some cases, I have followed the postings on some blogs daily, other times, I have read blogs sporadically. However, I love reading the quality work people create when they are inspired by their passion. I hope to emulate them.
In creating a blog I have two main goals, first, as a person who practices Yoga regularly, I want to reach out, in English and Spanish, to the average householder, someone who might be curious about Yoga or who might have practiced Yoga a few times and would like to participate in a friendly conversation about Yoga and Yoga inspired living.

My second goal is to use this space as a venue to distill my own understanding of the connections between Yoga and everyday life. Consequently, oftentimes I will write about topics that might seem only tangentially related to Yoga. I hope those topics will illustrate ways of living a yogic life, because I believe that Yoga, more than physical exercise, is a system for living consciously. I invite you to join me in this journey.

Namaste