Meditation has its benefits – it slows down breathing, quiets the mind which allows for our blood pressure to lower, helps our racing mind to be still and relaxes tense muscles. The problem is most think within the meditation box, that it’s one-size-fits-all. This mistaken identity can frustrate new comers who have been recommended to try meditation, maybe for health reasons. The first time they sit on the mat and try to clear their mind of thoughts, their mind becomes flooded with thoughts, every stress and mundane thought that brought them to the mat in the first place invades their mind. Every time they try to clear their mind, it just fills back up and they end up quitting with the belief they’ve failed. But the reality is, there’s more than one way to meditate.
We are all different and if you use the MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) to find your personality preference, you can chose a meditation practice to better suit your needs without getting frustrated and giving up before you even truly start. If you’re as honest with yourself as possible, you can find your personality type easily. First you need to know the basics.
The acronyms seem like codes, but their initials, E,I,S,N,T,F,J & P stand for the following:
(E) extravertion: outgoing, active, sociable
(I) introvertion: introspective, solitude, smaller group of friends
(S) sensing: practical, realistic
(N) intuition: relies on intuition, sensitive to patterns
(T) thinking: logic minded, judges with facts
(F) feeling: empathetic, slow to judge or act
(J) judging: structured, does not adapt to change well(P) perceiving: open minded, flexible
As for the 16 personality types here is a short description of each to help you find what best describes your personality traits. There are basic tests you can take online, but if you take the test with a qualified practitioner you will not only find your type with higher accuracy but will gain a richer understanding of MBTI, what it means for you as an individual and how you should be operate in a group environment, understanding why people are the way they are and what makes them tick.
ISTJ – Practical, realistic, responsible, quite, serious, likes things organized and orderly at work and in the home. They value loyalty, respect laws of the land and traditions.
ISFJ – Committed, quiet, friendly, conscientious, responsible, loyal, honors commitments. Thoughtful to other’s feelings and needs, values harmony in all their environments. Enjoys nurturing others, great listener.
INFJ – Protective, caring, people-curious, community-minded, materialistic, and decisive. Holds firm values, does not handle conflict well, high-expectation of self, self-drive to meet goals.
INTJ – Original, goal-driven, creative, goal orientated, looks for patterns, skeptical, independent, holds self and others to high standards. Has difficulty communicating ideas, enjoys solitude.
ISTP – Flexible, analytic, quite observer, values efficiency, active, scientific-minded, good at organizing facts and figures. Adventurous and energetic spirit gets board easily.
ISFP – Sensitive, quiet, friendly but reserved, creative and artistic, loyal to relationships and committed to personal values. Dislikes conflicts, respects personal opinions of others.
INFP – Curious, seeks opportunities, service-minded, caring, puts ideas into action, empathetic but reserved emotionally, adaptable, flexible as long as personal values are un-compromised. Likes to help people reach their goals.
INTP – Enjoys abstract ideas, can be seen as anti-social, quiet, flexible, adaptable, greater ability to focus, skeptical, critical, analytical. Emotionally reserved, seeks possibilities and opportunities.
ESTP – Outgoing, straight-forward, enthusiastic, take-action person, hard-working, practical, observant, problem-solver, spontaneous and lives in the moment. Enjoys the company of others, style and material comfort.
ESFP – Has strong people skills, tends to be a peace keeper, caring, sensible, outgoing, friendly, works well with others. Strong observer, uses common sense in the workplace and is realistic.
ENFP – Warm, imaginative, optimistic, needs reaffirmation, supportive, flexible, great improvisors, likes to motivate others, has trouble focusing on projects and seeing them through.
ENTP – Quick-minded, alert, out-spoken, dislikes routine, reads people well, tries new things often, adventurous, strategic, analytic, resourceful, visionary, creative problem solver.
ESTJ – Practical, realistic, quick and decisive, great at organizing people and projects, very sociable, enjoys social events and networking, thrives on order and continuity.
ESFJ – Warm, energetic, cooperative, seeks harmony at work and home, works well with others, loyal, honors commitments, appreciates punctuality and expects it. Likes to volunteer for community-improvement projects.
ENFJ – Responsible, warm, kind, empathetic, picks up on other’s emotional needs which makes them charming, social, can lead large groups, takes criticism well, can inspire and motivate others.
ENTJ – Upfront and straight-forward, natural leader, very sociable, communicates well, confident, goal-driven, determined and self-motivated, likes to stay informed, enjoys teaching others.
Here is a list of differing meditations to try out based on your individual MBTI type. There is however no reason why all of these couldn’t work for all MBTI profiles – try them all if you wish.
Mindfulness meditation: This is the most commonly known meditation. By being present, allow whatever thoughts occur to rise then detach. Be aware of your breath patterns, deep breaths mean you’re slowing down and relaxing, shallow breaths means you’re tensing up. This quieting of the mind by letting thoughts come and go and being more of an observer will naturally allow the meditator to let go of any invading thoughts, the goals is not to empty the mind but to notice and let go. This is ideal for ISTJ, ISFJ, ISFP and INFJ.
Spiritual meditation: This is a good solution for those that are facing a problem and need a higher power for guidance to work through it. You can practice this anywhere quiet, just sit still, form your problem into a query and listen for your higher powers guidance. This meditation would be good for the types ESTP, ENTJ, ESFP and ESFJ.
Zazen meditation: This meditation is more traditional and takes disciple to practice due to long periods of stillness in one position. Its focus is on holding position, focusing on breath and being discipled to stay present with a clear mind for long periods of time. It is perfect for those that are unafraid of self-study and reflection. Types such as INTP, INFP, ISTP and ENFJ may find the challenge appealing.
Mantra meditation: Is simply repeating a word or words while meditating. You can look to tradition and use Om or bring your own like love or joy. Chanting helps keep the meditator focused and cuts down on distraction for deeper meditation practice. Types INTJ, ISTP and ISFPwould benefit most from this style.
Movement meditation: For those that find it difficult to sit still and do nothing or be silent. To gain the multiple benefits of meditation, one doesn’t have to sit and be still. You can still clear your mind, slow your thoughts and let go of stress by slowing down your movements, and listening to relaxing music. Yoga, Qi gong, walking, are movement meditations. For example, in yoga, you can chose to meditate on one thing while you are going through the poses, like peace of mind. You can also take a nature walk, and mindfully let go of any stress-full thoughts. Some will even practice this while doing chores, it’s just a matter of being present. ENTJ, ESTJ, ENTP and ENFP personalities will find this exercise may suit them best.
Do you want to have a strong, unbreakable connection with your soul? Wish you could adopt positive thoughts, improved physical condition, or superior emotional states? If your answer to all these questions is YES, then you should start working to raise your vibration.
By raising your personal vibration, you can support your body-spirit-mind network. As a result, your body will get healthier and stronger, your energy levels will attain the right balance and equilibrium, and your mind will become peaceful. It is vital to apply the ideal tools and exercises to protect your emotional, physical, and psychological states from lower vibrations. These lower vibrations may include unpleasant emotions, such as fear, pain, or disappointment, and disagreeable situations and people.
Your Vibration and Health
Everything in universe resonates at certain frequencies. The same is true for human cells. According to different scientific studies, specific frequencies are able to prevent or completely destroy diseases. This is how your vibration level is linked with your physical, mental, and emotional states.
A few scientific studies also reveal that certain parts of the human body have their respective signature frequencies. Thus, it can be said that the vibration of the cells present in a healthy human heart is much different from that of an unhealthy heart’s cells. When a body part becomes diseased, it may not resonate at its original frequency anymore. In instances like these, you can restore your body to its healthy state only by improving its vibration.
Your Vibration and the Law of Attraction
The things you devote your focus, attention, and energy to, intentionally or unintentionally, are attracted into your life. All individuals give off certain vibrations when they feel, think, and act. When the people around you receive these vibrations, they may declare, “this person gives off really good/bad vibes”.
According to the law of attraction, the nature responds and gives you more of your own vibrations. Based on the belief “like attracts like”, this law states that an individual can support negative or positive results by emitting negative or positive vibrations. This cycle continues until you take a few effective steps to change it.
Raise Your Personal Vibration
If you’ve decided to raise your vibration to give your life a fresh start, but don’t know how you can get the task done, here are the basic helpful steps for your convenience. Read on to gain a better understanding of raising your vibration:
- Stop Complaining, Start Appreciating!
Complaining about things that are beyond your control is not only counterproductive, but is also able to have a negative impact on your personal vibration. Constant complaints may make you feel better temporarily, but they can eat away your sense of satisfaction in the long run. Such acts can typically result in greater sadness, relationship problems, and negative thinking.
When you stop complaining about your problems and hardships, you’ll be in a better position to appreciate your life. Be grateful for what you already have. Morning dew, evening stars, scent of a flower, chirping birds, water droplets, refreshing rainwater, cool seasons – there are zillions of things that you can show appreciation for. You can even start with the “I’m Alive” expression to boost up your vibration.
- Learn to Forgive
In addition to being an essential tool for soul advancement, forgiveness is one of the most practical means to raise your vibration. Forgiveness is not just a mental notion, idea, or thought. Instead, it is a time-consuming process that involves extensive analysis and deep understanding. It demands true attention, time, and patience.
True forgiveness occurs only when a person is ready to process through his/her emotions and feelings and willing to leave the agony behind. Forgiveness is one of the greatest gifts you can give to yourself. No matter how horrible, traumatic, or bad others have been to you, consider forgiving them to protect yourself from potential anguish. This will enhance your energy and help you forget about painful thoughts. Learn to forgive yourself for your mistakes as it will prepare you to forgive others.
- Devote Time to Nature
Your hectic routine may make it difficult for you to observe and appreciate natural beauty. You may simply get busy in the current world of information and technology and forget about the real purpose of your life. Find a way to combine your own world with that of the nature as the latter world’s vibration is absolutely pure. You can give your vibration a significant boost by surrounding yourself with refreshing natural elements.
Whether you walk along the seashore, enjoy the atmosphere of your local park, or visit a hilly area, spending some time in nature on a daily basis will help you relax, forget about your worries, and clear your mind. Even if you reside in an urban area, look for green, peaceful parks where you can come closer to the natural environment. As a result, you are likely to become more involved in your beautiful, relaxed present.
- Positive Words
Innumerable words come out of your mouth on a daily basis as you express your thoughts, beliefs, ideas, and opinions freely. However, you may be unaware of the negative or positive effect your words tend to have on yourself as well as on the people around you. Your words may emit energy that can provoke others to respond and react. Words are a powerful tool that you can use to direct energy into your body.
Choose your words carefully as they have the power to build or destroy the people around you. The words you listen to and speak shape your life. Avoid gossips and negative conversations as they can damage your personality and bring your vibration to lower levels. To raise your vibration to considerable levels, make sure to control your words rather than letting them control you.
- Positive People
Having negative people around you can exhaust your energy. It is a good idea to stay away from people who criticize your ambitions and dreams. Surround yourself with individuals who not only believe in your abilities, but can also help you turn your dreams into reality. Good friends, motivating teachers, spiritual acquaintances, or inspiring relatives can have a strong, positive impact on your vibrational frequency. Your personal vibration largely depends on the kind of people you surround yourself with.
Your rapport with others can raise your happiness share. Spend your time with people who give you a chance to show your true self, help you enjoy their company, be inspired, and forget about your problems. Try to link with people who share your passions and interests.
- Positive Sounds
Music can be an amazing tool to increase your frequency. However, hateful, painful, violent, or fearful music can send involuntary messages to your subconscious and have a negative impact on your mood and energy. If you want to give your life an optimistic touch, try surrounding yourself with passionate, relaxing music. Whether instrumental or vocal, music can be considered as a type of speech or language. You simply have to understand its various shades, tones, patterns, and rhythms to make its best use to raise your personal vibration.
People looking to raise their vibrations should make positive sounds a vital part of their lives. Listen to refreshing, uplifting music. The music you listen to can make you feel sad, happy, thrilled, or peaceful. Keep yourself occupied with music that has a joyful, relaxing, and positive effect on your personality. Your body can absorb sounds to keep its balance and energy at the right levels.
- Positive Food
Organic, pure, and fresh fruits and vegetables are the supreme alternatives to raise your vibration. These are the best natural food items that have high frequencies. You can relish some celery, beans, carrots, fruits, or other vegetables as healthy snacks. They not only keep you energized, but also serve as natural healers. It is important to consume food to maintain your energy levels. However, it should not be an unconscious act.
The food you eat is able to improve as well as destroy your energy. Most food items consumed today are pretty low in vibration due to artificial processing and farming practices. Such items should be eliminated from your diet. For instance, anything having preservatives, chemicals, pesticides, refined sugar, and refined flour should be avoided. A healthy, balanced meal is critical for greater vibration and optimal health.
Exercise not only strengthens your entire body, but also supports your mental and emotional states. It can also increase your vibration considerably. Pay attention to your body while you exercise as it can let you determine its requirements. Get your body involved in a good workout session. You can run, swim, ride a bicycle, play your favorite sport, lift weights, or do any other enjoyable physical activity.
You simply have to get the blood rushing through your body to enjoy greater levels of energy. Physical exercise not only keeps you energized and provides your brain with additional oxygen, but it also encourages the discharge of certain frequency raising chemicals. Your body responds to these chemicals as you feel good, relaxed after completing a workout session.
Mediation is one of the easiest approaches you can use to learn about yourself. It makes you more aware of your ideas, beliefs, thoughts, and values. This, as a result, helps you get rid of bad judgments and habits for good. It also enables you to get inspired and promote spiritual awareness. You are not required to meditate like a monk or yogi. Instead, take a few moments out of your busy routine every day, find a peaceful spot, sit in a relaxing position, and set your thoughts free. During meditation, you don’t let negative ideas disturb your thought process.
This enables your vibration to increase as this is the time when you get connected with your intuition. Regular meditation can gradually bring your frequency to a higher level. Meditation can help you eliminate negative thoughts and improve your spiritual, physical, and emotional self.
Toxins have a negative impact on your energy levels. Water is a kind of life force. Consuming large amounts of water will help your body get rid of toxic materials and maintain your energy at the right levels. It is also imperative to eliminate alcohol, cigarettes, and refined foods from your life. Water can raise your vibrational frequency, particularly when energized with the right intention.
Make sure you are always well hydrated as water is the perfect conductor for refined spiritual energy. You can even opt for a refreshing shower or bath to make good use of the water’s high frequency.
- Deep Breathing
Think meditation is too difficult, challenging for you? You can try a few breathing techniques to raise your vibration. Deep, slow breaths can give your vibration the required boost. This strategy is preferred by many people as anyone can perform this anywhere, anytime.
Take a deep breath though your nose until your chest is completely filled with air. Use your nose to exhale slowly until your chest is completely empty of air. Performing this exercise a number of times throughout the day is a good approach to improve your vibration.
- Essential Oils
When the human body loses its equilibrium, organic and pure essential oils usually help the cells vibrate at appropriate frequencies. Since each essential oil has a particular frequency, it should be used with care. According to different studies, low-frequency oils can cause physical changes, middle-frequency oils can cause emotional changes, while high-frequency ones are known to cause spiritual changes in the human body.
As a prudent individual, you have enough courage to take responsibility for the improvement of your own life. Manifest the best version of your personality, take conscious actions, and avoid reacting to unhealthy emotions and situations.
Embrace the above mentioned changes to allow a superior flow of energy into your body and mind. This will raise your vibration to improve your outlook of life. Additionally, you will have greater chances to encounter other individuals with better vibrations and welcome pleasant and positive situations in your life. So are you ready to become a truly energetic person who is meant to vibrate at higher frequencies?
What is your strongest sense perception?
The most acute sense among respondents was hearing, with 34%. Sight is the runner-up (28%), followed by the mysterious sixth sense, at 17%. Smell and touch were tied with 10% each, and only 1% chose taste.
What is your favorite exercise to do mindfully?
- Weight lifting
- Mindful aikido
- Cleaning the house
- Barre classes
Body and mind: What’s their relationship?
When do you feel most centered?
Do you practice mindful eating?
23% say they cultivate the habit of eating mindfully. 36% have tried it once or twice. 16% eat mindfully only when they’re not too hungry (we’ve all been there!). 20% have never tried a mindful eating practice. Finally, 5% make the case that mindfulness shouldn’t relate to pressures about so-called right and wrong ways to eat.
What is your favorite food to eat mindfully?
- “Baby carrots…or potato chips.”
- “My first cup of coffee in the morning!”
- “A Malteser.”
- “If I have to eat something mindfully, it needs to be chewy and/or sticky, like dried fruit.”
- “Salad—so many things grown from the earth, picked by hand, and made available to me with nutrients to fuel my body.”
- “Wine and cheese.”
- “Anything crunchy and juicy and fresh.”
- “Probably something smooth like yogurt.”
Do physical cues (e.g., sitting up straight, deep breathing) help you to practice mindfulness?
Hugs are …
- 58% A genuine way to connect physically and emotionally. Hugs all around!
- 37% Nice, but only with good friends or family members.
- 1% Reserved for family reunions or under duress.
- 4% Awkward. I want my personal space.
What emotion creates the strongest feeling in your body?
The least powerful physical response comes from relief, with only 3%. Sadness and happiness also scored low (7% and 8%), and love only a little higher at 11%. Unpleasant emotions had the highest scores: fear (18%), anger (19%), and anxiety (34%).
In one word, how would you describe the relationship between your mind and body?
- “A journey.”
- “Can’t do a word…a love in progress.”
This article appeared in the June 2018 issue of Mindful magazine.
The body and mind need to work together in order to fully experience clarity of mind and radiant health.
It breaks the practice into four main sections:
- Making friends with yourself (an introduction to mindfulness practice)
- Dynamic equilibrium (cultivating balance in mind & body)
- Obstacles as path (working with obstacles and resistance)
- Opening your heart (developing kindness and compassion)
Making Friends With Yourself: Mindfulness Meditation
We start with our mind, because doesn’t everything really start there? It seems strange, but many of us don’t know our own mind. Often, without even realizing it, we avoid getting to know ourselves because we think we might not like what we find. Mindfulness provides a way to take a gentle and friendly look at oneself.
Meditation practice teaches us to recognize when our mind and body are dis-integrated: the body is right here but the mind may be far away. We practice bringing mind and body together to develop a more harmonious, efficient, and creative relationship with ourselves and our world.
Since this process involves uncovering layers of discursive thoughts and habitual patterns, an important ingredient is to take an open and nonjudgmental attitude toward whatever we discover. Then that approach can be extended into our yoga practice, where the yogi is encouraged to work with her or his present situation without adding stress and ambition. Whatever body we have, whatever mind we have, we look at it with an open heart and a spirit of exploration.
Taking a look at our mind begins with our body—taking a strong and stable seat on our meditation cushion. Generally we take a cross-legged posture, but this can be done in a variety of ways, based on our flexibility and comfort level. One can also take a kneeling posture or even sit upright in a chair, with feet flat on the floor and the spine upright and unsupported by the back of the chair. We can simply rest our hands palms down on our knees or on our thighs just above the knees.
Now we can pay attention to the position of our spine, stacking the vertebra one on top of the other so that we have a good, upright posture without straining. Our back is strong and stable, and our front is soft and open. We can feel uplifted and dignified by sitting this way.
Our chin is tucked in slightly. There is a sense of containment and relaxation at the same time. The jaw is relaxed. The eyes remain open in a soft, downward gaze, focusing three to four feet in front. There is a feeling of relaxed awareness: we are seeing without looking too hard. We are awake and alert, but in a very peaceful and open way.
Having established our posture, we simply continue to breathe normally. There is no attempt made to manipulate the breath. Then we place our attention on our breathing in a very light and uncomplicated way. When our attention wanders, we simply bring it back to the breathing, time and time again. It’s like taking a fresh start over and over again.
Rather than creating an idealized or dreamy state of mind, we start with what we actually have, working with our thoughts and emotions as they arise and accepting the situation as it is. This is why we talk about making friends with ourselves. We start by accepting ourselves as we are, and gradually and peacefully bring our attention and breath together. This practice naturally creates more focus, clarity, and stability in our state of mind.
Yoga is an ideal bridge practice between formal meditation sessions and the rest of our life, when we move through the world, interacting with others. So much of what we fear, love, crave, push away, and ignore is stored in our physical body. Practicing yoga with a sense of alertness and curiosity can offer a complete program for getting familiar with our habits, creating space between stimuli and response, cultivating skillful means such as patience, and doing all of this in an environment that includes other people.
But my observation is that this process does not automatically unfold through yoga practice. Without infusing friendly mindfulness into yoga practice, it is typical for overachievers to bring their aggression to the mat, while chronic underachievers wither from the required exertion. Both extremes are framed by a goal-oriented mentality focused on endpoints such as toe-touching. But once these postures are achieved, then what?
The Sanskrit word for posture is asana, which can be translated as “seat” or “to sit with what comes up.” When yogis are invited to relax their agenda and open to the vibrancy of their immediate experience—lively sensations in hamstrings, inhalations massaging the low back, the shifting textures of the mind—they are finally practicing asana.
Getting curious about our personal experience (and practice isn’t really practice unless it’s personal), we begin to notice aspects of our process. Am I holding my breath and grasping? Or through full breathing, open eyes, and patient heart, could I slow down and wake up enough to create the conditions for fingers to touch toes? Whatever we notice is fodder for further exploration, both on the mat and after class.
This exploration offers us a non-judgmental method of communication within our most primary relationship—that of our own mind and our own body. Just as we place our attention on our breath in meditation practice, we can do the same thing in yoga. Of course, when we’re turning upside down and inside out, our breath shifts, but it shifts in life too, whenever we are challenged, excited, bored, or sad. This is how yoga practice becomes fertile ground for cultivating a friendly attitude as we move through our day.
Dynamic Equilibrium: Not Too Tight, Not Too Loose
“It seems so easy—just sit and watch my breath. So why am I still having so many thoughts?” “I’ve been doing yoga for six months and even though I’m trying so hard, I still can’t do a full backbend!” “I had a really good meditation—my mind was finally clear!” “I can’t do that pose. Never, no way!”
These are all examples of how we can overexert or under-apply ourselves in these practices. In order to have a balanced approach toward our effort, we need to recognize that equilibrium is dynamic and fluid, not at all a static process.
As we go deeper with our practice, we can begin to let go of what we think we are supposed to experience. Many students can do a full backbend after six months, but others—perfectly happy people—never do a backbend. Every meditation session is going to be different. The key is to cultivate discipline and exertion, and at the same time relax our agenda.
Once we have started on the path of meditation, there are further refinements to the practice as we go along. In general, the teachings are like a road map or guidebook to a journey we have to undertake ourselves.
Beyond making friends with ourselves, we can develop greater stability and equilibrium in our state of being. In many cases our tendency is to think that we can achieve a particular state of mind (or body for that matter) and hold it. I think this is the most common confusion that many meditators experience—that there is some absolute right way to do it, some ideal state of mind that we can achieve and sustain.
Actually, our situation is changing from moment to moment, and there is really nothing to hold on to at all. Impermanence is a fundamental fact of our existence. Whatever we experience seems to morph constantly, and it seems like every event, every perception, every thought, every situation is slipping away just as soon as we feel we are getting a handle on it. Our meditation practice is really a way to attune ourselves to this ever-changing experience of the present moment. It is training in the art of living as our life unfolds from moment to moment, like developing balance while standing on one leg on a windy cliff.
This approach is summed up by the slogan “Not too tight and not too loose.” As we pay attention to our breathing, we use a light touch of awareness rather than a riveted and stiff kind of effort. On the other hand, if our effort is too loose, we simply wander around in a distracted state of mind, without developing any insight or clarity about how our mind works.
Developing equilibrium means that we ride the energy of our mind like a surfer rides the waves. If the surfer holds too tight, she will fall. If she hangs too loose, she will fall. Sometimes she needs to hang ten, sometimes none at all. Likewise, riding the energy of our mind is a dynamic and ongoing process.
Everybody gets too tight or too loose all the time. This is natural and normal. The yogic approach to balance integrates oppositional forces, the most basic elements being active and receptive. This is what distinguishes yoga as more than a mere exercise program and makes it a natural training ground for cultivating mindfulness.
When I begin teaching students how to do a handstand, most can’t do it at all. In addition to the fear factor, they simply don’t have the strength, coordination, and concentration required. They practice a few inch-high kicks up and leave it at that, a nice balance of reasonable physical effort and then mentally letting it go.
But intermediate yogis, who easily do handstands against the wall, start to crave balancing off the wall. They will jump up and fall back so many times they get in a bad mood. Here’s what I say to them to help them shift their process: “If you hear a big boom when your feet hit the wall, you are using too much effort! Find out what is too little. Kick up, but don’t touch the wall. Get familiar with the feeling of less. When you learn what is too much and what is too little, you can find just enough.”
This is a revelation! When they were beginners they needed to kick hard to get even slightly airborne. With more strength and courage, their balance will come from tighter mental focus and looser physical effort. Things have changed!
Without waking up to what is happening right now, yogis will literally continue to bang themselves against the wall. With the discovery of a middle path the practice really begins, because that sweet spot of stability is elusive—it won’t be the same tomorrow.
It is tempting to want to establish a permanent balance point. But a reliable point of stability, or the amount of effort required to hold a handstand, or fairly manage your employees, or consistently discipline your children, will be different every day. In the Yoga Sutra, Patanajali advises us, “The asanas should be practiced with steadiness and ease.” Doesn’t that sound like a good recipe for life?
Obstacles as Path: Touch & Go
Actually, from one point of view there is no such thing as a path. We may have the feeling we are making some kind of journey and that it has shape and direction. We are going from here to there, with some specific idea of where we have been and where we are going. But this approach is based on an idealized version of our experience. In reality, our journey is unfolding as we go along.
Learning to bring our full attention to that journey could be called “path.” So, as many dharma teachers have pointed out, “the path is the goal.” That means that what we experience as “obstacles” along the way is usually just a sense of our own expectations falling apart. These same obstacles can be viewed differently, as the basis for re-engaging our attention and working through whatever arises, whether it is a sense of purpose and satisfaction, or boredom, resistance, or a feeling of futility. Work with whatever arises.
Going further on our path, sometimes we will experience resistance to the practice itself. We may encounter strongly entrenched habitual patterns and it might feel difficult to move beyond them. Depression, resentment, anxiety, laziness, frivolity—to name a few—can make us feel there is no point in continuing to cultivate mindfulness and awareness.
A revolutionary approach we can take is to see that the obstacles can actually become the stepping stones of the path. Our irritation, boredom, emotional upheavals, and wandering mind are the basis of the meditation practice itself. Without them, there is no meditation practice, just some kind of gooey, vague, and highly suspicious sense of well-being that lacks any real strength or foundation. We are just trying to pacify our mind in a superficial way, without working with ourselves as we really are—emotional, speedy, tired, anxious, spaced out, or whatever arises.
By touching in on these difficult aspects of our experience—really tasting them, and then allowing them to exist without judgment or manipulation—we are tuning into a new kind of spaciousness that is refreshing and creative.
Here we can think of another slogan: “Touch and go.” When we are trying to pay attention to our breathing and notice we are off in a daydream, nightmare, or drama of some kind, we simply label that “thinking” and come back to the breath.
There is no need to judge or evaluate the thoughts further. We simply let go, which is actually very profound. We do not need to repress or ignore the thought—that is the touch part. We can touch in on our thoughts and emotions and become more familiar with the patterns and movements of our mind. This exploration will of course include the ripples of “negative” thoughts and emotions that can sometimes grow into a tidal wave of resistance to the practice itself. Whenever our resistance solidifies like this, it can be helpful to remember why we started with the practice in the first place, and simply lean again into our effort.
People are always telling me that they don’t do yoga because they are too stiff. No problem! Stiff bodies are perfect candidates for yoga, as is every other kind of body. No matter who you are or what yoga class you take, you’ll find that some postures come naturally and some are beyond the realm of your current capacity or comprehension.
Typically, when we hit a yoga glitch, we try to identify an external reason: My arms are too long or too short; I’m too fat, too weak, too old, too short, too tall. Yet somehow those same arms are just the right size for that other easier pose. Hmmm…perhaps these obstacles aren’t so solid after all.
I help students explore this through a pose called Utkatasana,nicknamed Awkward Pose. A “perfect” Utkatasana requires quadricep strength; strong, loose shoulders and lower back; long, stretchy Achilles tendon; and cardiovascular stamina. But you don’t need all that to work your way into it. You just need an open mind.
The first time in Utkatasana is fine—for a moment. But when I make the yogis stay longer than they expect, the resistance sparks start flying. Some students try an out-of-body
experience—anything to ignore the intensity of this challenging pose. I bring them back with “What are you thinking? Where is your breath?”
Finally, I move them into a flowing sequence where Utkatasana becomes a happily forgotten memory, until I take them right back there again. This time I invite them to find their own way to make this pose workable. “What would it take for you to find ease? Perhaps you could widen your arms, bend your legs less, use less effort, observe your feelings changing.”
Of course, the third time they come back to the pose they are ready and somehow it’s not so bad. I tell them that utkata means “powerful” and ask them to figure out for themselves how they can feel power without being effort-full.
This goes on, and with each Utkatasana I can feel their attitude shift. The dreaded feeling of physical struggle transforms from an eyes-rolling-here-we-go-again feeling, to a sense of possibility, to I-can’t-believe-she’s-doing-this-again, into laughing out loud. What would have happened if we’d only done one miserable Utkatasana?
2. Opening Your Heart: Maitri Practice
Our hearts are always fundamentally open. They’re just covered up sometimes by doubt, hesitation, fear, anxiety, and all kinds of self-protective habitual patterns.
The practice of opening the heart is based on exploring and reversing some of these patterns. We cultivate openness while noting and dissolving the habits that obscure our natural sympathy and compassion for others.
At the physical and energetic level, we have an actual heart and surrounding area that can feel shut down and blocked up. So we can work on opening that area, bringing more energy and blood flow and breaking through the constriction and tightness that may have become normal for us.
Even though we might feel quite alone in our life and our practice, in the bigger picture we live in an interconnected web with others. The measure of success in our meditation practice is not how much we can transcend the pain and confusion of our own existence but how much we can truly connect with our lives, and with the others who share it.
After creating a proper ground by training our mind, it is a natural evolution of our practice to develop care and consideration for others. In fact, there are many meditation practices that are intended to develop kindness and compassion toward others as well as ourselves.
One such practice is called maitri. Maitri means loving-kindness or unconditional friendliness. It can be a natural outgrowth of mindfulness and awareness, but it is also a further step into overcoming and transforming our habitual patterns of selfishness and aggression. Maitri is a contemplative practice that encourages us to use our thoughts and imagination creatively. We actually use the thinking mind to help us develop sympathy toward others.
In some sense, we have already trained ourselves to be self-centered, uptight, jealous, and short-tempered. We can also train ourselves to be expansive, open, generous, and patient, because our thoughts are not as solid as we have made them out to be. They actually come and go in a somewhat haphazard fashion, with a tendency to repeat certain patterns that have become comfortable and familiar. It is entirely possible to step out of these patterns altogether, and through contemplation develop more positive habits that benefit oneself and others.
In maitri practice, we start by tuning into somebody we love and wish well. Then, through the power of directing our thoughts and intentions, we try our best to extend that loving feeling toward our indifferent group, then even to our enemies, and then gradually to all beings everywhere. We recognize that none of these categories of friend, enemy, and don’t-care is really solid anyhow. They are all changing year to year, day by day, and even moment to moment.
The traditional form that our good wishes takes is contained in these four slogans:
- May you be safe.
- May you be happy.
- May you be healthy.
- May you be at ease.
We bring our loved one to mind, then ourselves, then the neutral person, and then the “enemy” or irritating person. In each case we simply repeat these slogans or contemplate their meaning. In this way we can deliberately cultivate and direct our goodwill and positive intentions toward ourselves and others.
There’s good news right off the bat here for yogis, because just the fact that you’ve come to yoga class is an act of kindness toward yourself. Asana practice is an unparalleled method for removing energetic obstructions that make it tough to feel good or to have energy for yourself and others.
In yoga the primary activity of the arms is to support the function of the heart and lungs, the heavenly internal organs associated with feelings, vision, and the primary channels of life force. When our breath and blood are circulating freely, we feel fully alive and more available to ourselves and others.
Circulate is what we want our emotions to do, too. A sunken chest, slumped shoulders, and drooping chin inhibit energy flow and wholesome feelings. They’re depressing. The opposite is equally true—if your chest, back, and heart muscles are supported, spacious, and mobile, you will breath better and feel cheerful.
Loving-kindness asana practice focuses on heart-opening poses. We rotate our shoulders, open our ribs, and do backbends that release chest muscles and unlock sensation in the heart center. Some of these poses are challenging, but they can be done with curiosity and gentleness. One way I try to make them fun is by creating community.
Partnering exercises such as supported backbends or holding shoulders in a group tree pose teach us how to support and be supported by others. When everybody falls over, we laugh! It’s a clear example that if something doesn’t work for everybody, it doesn’t work. It’s an immediate reminder that our minds and hearts truly extend past the apparent boundary of our body. The sense of “other” starts to dissolve. We can experience interdependence right there on the yoga mat.
Traditional yoga theory emphasizes ahimsa, or non-harming. By applying maitri to how we work with relationships in yoga class, we grow the seed of ahimsa into an active blossoming of seeing others and consciously connecting to them. This shows up in our class etiquette: Can I move my mat over to make more space for a latecomer? Can I pass you a tissue? Yoga class becomes a safe haven for practicing kindness with like-minded seekers and gives us the skills to handle what we meet when we walk out the door.
Although yoga is a wonderful method for getting a strong and fluid body, it can also be a way to solidify habits of attachment and aversion. And even though you might be able to sit on your meditation cushion for a month, when you try to get up after thirty days—or thirty minutes—it might take just as long for your legs to start working again. That’s why we find that the practices of yoga and meditation complement each other so well.
Yoga and meditation are not ends in and of themselves. You may not ever put your leg behind your head, but you might find yourself having more patience with your children. You may only have ten minutes a day to practice mindfulness meditation, but you might find that wakeful energy and compassionate outlook creeping into your staff meetings at work.
No matter what your job is, who your family is, what country you live in, or what planet you live on, your body and mind will always be with you. Our identities are all tightly linked with how we feel about our body and our mind—Am I fat? Am I smart? Perhaps this integration of meditation and yoga will inspire you to get to know your body and mind better—maybe not the body you had when you were twenty or the mind you had when you got that high score on your SAT, but the good body and mind you have right now.
This practice is really about communicating with the inner critic, and, as for Lilah, the first step is to catch that voice when it appears. We notice that the critic lives in a world of absolutes, with little room for nuance or gray areas. Her favorite words are should, always, and never, and blame is her operating system. “You’ve blown it, you always do.” “You should just give up.” “You’re so different, no one will ever love you.” “You’re so flawed, you’ll never be able to help yourself, let alone anybody else.” Instead of creating a wide and open space for embracing our lives, the inner critic causes us to question our worth and collapse in on ourselves.
For some, the inner critic is a specific voice from the past—your mother, your aunt, a child, the boss who fired you. My friend Joseph Goldstein still remembers the first-grade teacher who gave him a big red F in cutting and pasting. (This was in the days when you mixed flour and water to make paste, and Joseph’s work was apparently very messy.)
A friend or stranger may make an offhand remark that we take so deeply into our bodies and minds that they become part of our identities. And if, as in Josephine’s case, the critical voices have been passed down “like family heirlooms,” the identification goes even deeper. I have a friend who hears the scornful voice of her long-dead mother—a woman who revered thinness above all human attributes— when she gains even a few pounds. Paradoxically, at times, such critical voices may even comfort us by linking us to our past and to the most important people in our lives. The judgments of those we loved or admired are part of our story, and, if we don’t spot them when they arise, they become the judgments we project on others, as well as ourselves.
Mindfulness helps us see the addictive aspect of self-criticism—a repetitive cycle of flaying ourselves again and again, feeling the pain anew. The inner critic may become a kind of companion in our suffering and isolation. As long as we judge ourselves harshly, it can feel as if we’re making progress against our many flaws. But in reality, we’re only reinforcing our sense of unworthiness.
Yet when we start to pay attention, we notice how quickly the critic jumps in, even when something good happens. If people befriend us, our critic may whisper that if they only knew how insecure and defective we are, they wouldn’t stick around for long. Or say you’ve just run a marathon. Are you celebrating the fact that you trained, ran, and finished? Or are you upbraiding yourself for being the last person to cross the finish line?
One student told me that shortly after the birth of her second child she went into a tailspin of self-judgment because her house was messy and she wasn’t keeping up her appearance or getting to the ironing. The noise of her self-abuse was so loud that it was more than a week before she realized she was comparing herself to her mother, a woman who always looked put together and kept a spotless home despite having two children—but she also happened to have a housekeeper who came in every day. Comparison is one of the critic’s favorite weapons. Luckily, mindfulness is so much wiser and more robust than our inner critic.
- Meditation: Remembering your goodness
If you find yourself ruminating on the things you regret and the mistakes you’ve made, try this exercise. It will help you redirect your attention and remember goodness within. The point is not to deny your mistakes, but if you keep rehearsing them, analyzing them, creating stories around them, you’re simply reinforcing the pain and alienation they’ve already caused you. When you recognize and reflect on even one good thing about yourself, you are building a bridge to a place of kindness and caring. Standing in that place increases your ability to look honestly and directly at whatever is difficult and gives you the energy and courage to move forward.
When you recognize and reflect on even one good thing about yourself, you are building a bridge to a place of kindness and caring.
- Sit comfortably in a relaxed, easy posture and close your eyes.Now bring to mind one thing you have done or said recently that you feel was kind or good.
- It does not have to be newsworthy!Maybe you smiled at someone or listened to their story, maybe you let go of your annoyance at a slow checkout clerk, maybe you were generous, maybe you sat down to meditate, maybe you thanked a bus driver. It’s not conceit or arrogance to consider these things. It’s nourishing and replenishing to take delight in the good that moves through us.
- Or you might think of a quality or skill in yourself that you like or appreciate:perhaps you are enthused about helping others learn or committed to practicing patience toward your irascible neighbor.
- If you still find yourself caught up in self-criticism, turn your attention to the mere fact that you have an urge toward happiness.There is kindness and beauty in that. Or simply recall that all beings everywhere want to be happy, everybody wants to be happy.
- Never feel ashamed of your longing for happiness.Recall that this is your birthright. Seeking happiness is not the problem. The problem is that we often do not know where and how to find genuine happiness and so make the mistakes that cause suffering for ourselves and others. But that urge toward happiness itself is rightful, and when we support it with mindfulness, it can become like a homing instinct or a compass pointing us toward freedom.
If any impatience or judgments emerge during this meditation, don’t feel as though you have failed. This is entirely natural. Simply allow the negative reaction to ebb as a wave on the beach, and see if you can return to the positive contemplation without self-criticism.
Excerpted from the book Real Love by Sharon Salzberg.
YOGA MEDITATION INCLUDES
SAMAYAMA which is Antaranga Yoga of
PRATYAHARA like Tratak & MANTRA( SOUND MEDITATION)
DHARANA like KUNDALINI JAGRAN 16 DHARANAS taught in Gems Of Yoga for committed Yogi.
OM is a direct path: Remembering the sound vibration of AUM (or OM), along with a deep feeling for the meaning of what it represents (brings both the realization of the individual Self and the removal of obstacles that normally block that realization In a sense, this practice is like a short cut, in that it goes directly to the heart of the process.
Systematically piercing the levels: This practice takes one on a direct route inward, systematically piercing the levels of consciousness. It is done with sincerity and dedication towards the untainted creative source or pure consciousness which AUM represents. That consciousness contains the seed of omniscience which is the source of the teachings of all the ancient sages .
Remember the meaning: For it to have its effect, the sound of AUM is remembered with deep feeling for the meaning of what it represents.
OM symbolizes deep realities: OM Mantra itself is not a mere human invention, going along with particular cultures or groups. Rather, the OM Mantra (or AUM Mantra) is a symbol of deep realities that already exist. For example, the deep vibration quality is definitely experienced by the mystic traveler, whether or not one has ever heard of the OM mantra as such. The levels of gross (A), subtle ( U ) and causal ( M) . and the states of Waking (A), dreaming (U), and deep sleep (M) are definitely there, regardless of the symbolism captured in the mantra when stated as AUM Mantra. It is these realities that are most useful in our spiritual practices.
Making the experience richer: If the OM mantra is repeated just for the feeling, having no sense of meaning at all, the experience can be quite pleasant, calming, and balancing. However, if one has a sense of the deeper meanings of the mantra, and different methods of using it, then the experience can be even richer and more revealing as one progresses in yoga meditation.
Practice one of the seven: Following are seven meanings and methods of using the mantra. By experimenting with the various methods, one of them may emerge that feels most personally in tune. It might be best to practice only one of the seven methods of OM mantra for a while. Gradually the other meanings will come, as they all merge into a unified experience.
Integrate the insights: The use of this mantra can be profound. At first, it is best to use the mantra gently and for short periods of time. The insights from the OM mantra can be significant, and it is good to integrate the insights gradually with daily life.
- Pulsing Repetition
Use a speed that is natural and comfortable: There are many rhythms in the body and mind, both gross and subtle. Imagine the sound of OM, rising and falling, at whatever speed is comfortable and natural. It may be very fast, several cycles per second. Or it may be slower, several seconds for each cycling of OM Mantra. Or it might become extremely slow, with the mmmmmm… sound continuing in the mind for much longer periods, but still pulsing at that slow rate.
Imagine it somewhat like one of these vibrations:
Meditation time and daily life: This kind of awareness of the OM mantra can be used both at meditation time and during daily life. The OM mantra is allowed to be somewhat of a constant companion. It brings a centering, balancing quality to daily life. This does not mean being in a dull, lethargic state. Rather, done well, it brings clarity of mind and a greater ability to be in the world, and selflessly serving others.
Breaking habit patterns: This is not intended as a blocking mechanism to prevent dealing with one’s thought process or with the challenges of life. It is not a method of escapism. However, it definitely can have the effect of bringing focus to the mind, which can break a pattern of disturbing or distracting thoughts coming from the noisy or chattering mind. In this way, one has a greater openness to being aware of positive thoughts and spiritual realities that are always there.
- With the Flow of Breath
One method: Imagine the sound of OM Mantra internally, in the mind only, making no external sound. Allow the mantra to flow with the breath. Repeat like this:
- Exhale: “OMmmmmmmm…” Inhale: “OMmmmmmmm…”
- Exhale: “OMmmmmmmm…” Inhale: “OMmmmmmmm…”
- Exhale: “OMmmmmmmm…” Inhale: “OMmmmmmmm…”
Another method: Alternatively, imagine the OM mantra only on exhalation, if that feels more comfortable:
- Exhale: “OMmmmmmmm…” Inhale: “ (silence) “
- Exhale: “OMmmmmmmm…” Inhale: “ (silence) “
- Exhale: “OMmmmmmmm…” Inhale: “ (silence) “
Mind, breath, and mantra in unison: In this practice, you come to experience the mind, breath, and mantra flowing in unison. This synchronization has a beautiful effect on meditation. Simply allow the OM Mantra to come and go with each inhalation and exhalation. Allow there to be no gap, no space, no pause between inhalation and exhalation, or between exhalation and inhalation.
The speed naturally slows: As you gently allow the OM mantra to flow with the breath, the mind becomes calm. When the mind becomes calm, the body relaxes, and the breath becomes even soother and slower. That rate of speed at which the OM mantra is being repeated naturally slows down. It is not a matter of forcing the mantra to slow, but rather, this slowing comes quite naturally. Allow the mind to stay wide awake and alert, as the OM mantra and breath become naturally slower and slower. Meditation will deepen.
- As the Object Called Universe
Words have an object and meaning: Words usually have a corresponding object and meaning to go with that word. If you hear the word chair, then the concept of chair-ness arises in your mind. Some specific chair will probably come to mind. It may be a wooden chair or a metal chair, for example. It may be large, small, or this or that style, and it may be new or old. So, three things are there: 1) the word chair, 2) the concept of chair-ness, and 3) a specific chair.
The object that goes with OM is the universe: When the word OM is heard, what is the concept and object that comes to mind? What is that thing that goes along with that word, OM? The concept that goes with OM is the one-ness or entirety of the universe. The object that goes with the word OM is the entire universe, as a single unit, including the gross, subtle, causal planes of reality, both manifest and un-manifest. It means that whole, as if it was one, single object. It is that infinitely huge object, which is the object that goes with the word OM.
Awareness expands to contain the object: With attention turned inward, and reflecting on chair, the concept and image of chair arises. In the same way, do the same thing with the word OM, and allow your awareness to expand, as if it could contain the whole universe to go with that word.
Stretching the attention: There is a feeling of stretching, as if the attention had to get bigger and bigger, to contain the whole, the same way as the chair has a back, a seat, and legs, yet is collectively a chair. Continue to repeat OM, and continue to expand, so as to allow your attention to contain the whole of the object called OM.
- Sound Vibration of the Universe
The subtle sound is always there: A vibration exists, underneath all of the grosser aspects of being, like a substratum. The subtle sound of OM Mantra is constantly there, and when heard in deep yoga meditation, sounds like a continuous vibration, ever sounding out mmmmmmm…. At a deeper level, it is extremely loud and serene.
- Emerging from OM: The reality symbolized by OM Mantra is the ground vibration out of which all other vibrations, sounds and mantras emerge.
- Receding into OM: That vibration represented by OM Mantra is the substratum into which all those vibrations, sounds, and mantras recede when followed back to their source.
Similar words: Some say that this everlasting, all pervasive vibration of OM Mantra is also the source and intent of Amen, Amin, and Shalom. Some say that this sound is the Word of God.
Silence from which OM emerges: Eventually, this leads to a deep stillness and silence, which paradoxically, is experienced as the silence from which the sound of OM itself emerged. In the sections below, the silence is described as being the fourth state, beyond the three sounds of A, U, and M, which are contained in OM Mantra. However, in this practice, as you internally repeat the sound of OM, imagine that underlying vibration of the universe, as if it were coming from all places, and through all things.
Listen to the vibration while remembering OM: There is a sound that can relatively easily be heard in your ears that is more surface level, coming from the brain. Some people experience this as a buzzing or ringing sound. By listening closely, the mmmmmmm… sound can be heard, like the end of the OM mantra (Or you might hear it as eeeeeeeee….) Listening to this vibration, with the awareness of OM is a good way to start with the vibration aspect of OM. Gradually, it will expand to deeper sound of the mantra. Listening in this way can be particularly enjoyable and insightful when recalling some of the other meanings of OM Mantra at the same time.
Allowing thoughts to come and go: While listening, it is best to gently allow other thought patterns to come into the field of attention, and then allow those thoughts to drift away. There is not really any intent of doing anything with these thoughts, either engaging them or pushing them away. In other words, the listening for OM is not used to suppress thoughts and emotions. Rather, attention is allowed to expand, but at the same time, non-attachment is learned by staying with the vibration, and letting go of the thought patterns. This is one way to gain access to the ability to be a neutral witness of the stream of thoughts in the mind, as is sometime described as being like watching leaves, sticks, and logs floating by in a river.
- Gross, Subtle, and Causal Planes
Remembering four planes with OM: The OM mantra designates the whole of the universe, including the gross, subtle, and causal planes (realms, or levels) and the absolute reality of which they are a part. The explanation below can sound a bit technical, but this truly is a very practical use of the mantra, once you understand the meaning. It does require working with the mantra and the meaning, but then it becomes clearer and quite insightful.
Four parts of OM: The OM Mantra has four parts. First, is the sound like “Ah,” then “Uuuu,” then “Mmmm,” and finally the silence beyond the mantra. Thus, the mantra is also written as AUM, as well as OM. The three sounds, and the silence have the following meanings:
- The Asound refers to the gross
- The Upart refers to the subtle
- The Mrefers to the causal plane, out of which the gross and subtle emerge.
- The Silenceafter these three, refers to the absolute reality that is the substratum for each of the other three realities.
Start slowly in remembering the parts: When using the mantra in this way, it is easiest to begin by remembering the mantra very slowly, allowing time to be aware of each of the levels. Be aware of the four parts of the mantra separately (though forming a continuous sound), something like this:
- When the “A” of OM mantra arisesin the mind field, be aware of thegross world, including the objects of the world, the people, and your own physical being. Actually allow your attention to scan these aspects of the world. Do not get caught up in these objects; just be aware of this level of reality, and then let go of it, so as to go beyond.
- When the “U” of OM mantra arisesin the mind field, be aware, as best you can of the existence of the subtle or astral realm, including whatever objects you might intuit. As with the gross world, do not get caught up in these objects; just be aware of this level of reality, and then let go of it, so as to go beyond.
- When the “M” of OM mantra arisesin the mind field, be aware of thecausal, the background stillness out of which the subtle and gross emerge, and into which they rest when not active. This can be difficult to imagine. It might help to think of it like being the canvas on which a picture is painted, or the screen on which a movie is projected.
- When the Silence comesto the mind field, be aware of the absolute realitythat permeates each of the other three layers. This fourth level of the mantra the absolute reality, is experienced in a shallow way at first, and only deepens with continued practice of contemplation and yoga meditation. (To better understand this, please refer to the paper on the Mahavakyas, the great contemplations. From that, you will see how the mantra and the contemplations go together.)
- Waking, Dreaming, and Deep Sleep
Four states of consciousness: The four parts of AUM also refer to the levels of waking, dreaming, and deep sleep, as well. The three sounds, and the silence have the following meanings:
- The “A” sound refers to the wakingstate of consciousness.
- The “U” part refers to the dreamingstate of consciousness.
- The “M” refers to the deep sleepstate of consciousness.
- The Silenceafter these three, refers to the witness consciousness that is observer of the other three states of consciousness.
The question can arise of why a spiritual seeker cares about the states of waking, dreaming, and deep sleep. It is said that the states of deep sleep, samadhi, and death are very close together, that they function at the same levels. To understand this further, it would be good to read the paper on OM and the 7 levels of consciousness.
Begin by remembering slowly: As in the last practice, it is easiest to begin by remembering the mantra very slowly, allowing yourself time to be aware of each of the levels. With practice, it moves more quickly, as attention longs to rest in the silence.
- When the “A” of OM mantra arisesin the mind field, be aware of thewaking state of consciousness. This does not mean thinking of the objects of the world, but rather, being mindful of your personal waking state, in relation to the world and your inner mental and emotional process. This simply means being aware of being awake.
- When the “U” of OM mantra arisesin the mind field, be aware of thedreaming state of consciousness. This does not necessarily mean that you are experiencing those dreams, but that you are mindful of the dream state that is beneath the waking state.
- When the “M” of OM mantra arisesin the mind field, be aware of thedeep sleep state of consciousness. Be aware of how the mind is in complete stillness in that state, where there is no active thought process, no images, no pictures, and no words. All of these have come to rest in a dormant, formless form.
- When the Silence comesto the mind field, be aware of the consciousness that permeates all of the other three states of consciousness. In other words, consciousness flows through the waking state, the dreaming state, and even the deep sleep state (although there is no active content in deep sleep). Imagine that you can somehow be witness to waking, dreaming, and deep sleep from a higher vantage point that is aware of all.
Focusing more inwardly: When using the OM mantra in this way, notice how very personal the practice is, in that you are consciously cultivating awareness of the levels of your own internal states. It has an in here focus. By contrast, the use of OM with the levels of gross, subtle, causal, and absolute reality (above) has more of a focus out there. Ultimately, they merge into one awareness.
- Conscious, Unconscious, Subconscious Mind
Levels of consciousness: The four parts of AUM also refer to the levels of conscious, unconscious, and subconscious, as well as the consciousness that permeates these. (Note that some psychologies or systems use the words unconscious and subconscious in reverse, or use different terms. The meaning is what is important, not the particular choice of words). The three sounds, and the silence have the following meanings:
- The “A” sound refers to the consciouslevel of mental functioning.
- The “U” part refers to the unconsciouslevel of mind.
- The “M” refers to the subconsciouslevel, the storage place of mind.
- The Silenceafter these three, refers to the pure consciousness, which permeates the conscious, unconscious, and subconscious levels of awareness.
Begin slowly: Once again, it is easiest to begin by remembering the mantra very slowly. With practice, it moves more quickly, as attention longs to rest in the silence.
- When the “A” of OM mantra arisesin the mind field, be aware of theconscious level of mind. The easiest way to do this, is to contrast conscious to the unconscious. There is the conscious, that we are aware of here, in this external world, and there is the unconscious that is not seen in the deeper mind.
- When the “U” of OM mantra arisesin the mind field, be aware, as best you can, that your mind is presently functioning at an unconscious level as well. There is a tremendous amount of thinking process normally going on, that is out of view. This is what psychologists call primary process. It is going on behind the scenes, much like the microprocessor in a computer that is invisibly doing its work.
- When the “M” of OM mantra arisesin the mind field, be aware of thelatent part of the mind, where all of the countless memories of people, objects, and day to day information is stored. It is there, like the information stored on a hard disk of a computer. Until it is needed, it just sits there in a latent, dormant form (It is actually in a formless form, somewhat like the data on the hard disk that is stored only as raw data, with no images as such). Be aware of that stillness, that is the storage of your deep impressions and habit patterns.
- When the Silence comesto the mind field, be aware of the consciousness that permeates all of the other three levels. In other words, consciousness flows through the unconscious functioning. Consciousness is there in the latent part of the mind, even though those objects are not awakened into action at the moment. Eventually, this Silence expands to being the awareness of the other three states. It is at this stage that one is called a Seer, in that all of the other levels of mind are witnessed from this vantage point.
Integration of the Practices
Three methods from same levels: Gradually, one comes to see that the last three methods of using AUM (above) are manifestations of the same levels of being. Notice how the “A” represents, Waking, Conscious, and Gross levels. The “U” represents Dreaming, Unconscious, and Subtle levels. The “M” represents Deep Sleep, Subconscious and Causal. The Silence represents the fourth state, which is above or higher than the other three. These are further described in the paper 4 Levels and 3 Domains of Consciousness.
|AUM||Name of level||States of
Self / Atman
The one great vibration: One comes to experience that the four aspects of AUM, the vibration of the universe, the object that goes with OM mantra, the flow with the breath, and the countless pulsings of the gross and subtle, are all manifestations of that one great vibration that is represented by OM mantra.
Tripura: Maha Tripura Sundari, the great, beautiful one, essence, consciousness, or reality that dwells in the three “cities” (tri-pura, or three cities including: gross, subtle, causal; waking, dreaming, sleeping; conscious, unconscious, subconscious).
Unity of the methods: In practicing the seven methods above, it is best to focus on one at a time, so as to capture its individual meaning and experience. Eventually, the unity of the methods is experienced.
SAMADHI – The FINAL
The eighth and final step in Patanjali Ashtanga Yoga is samadhi. The word samadhi literally means “putting together” and is often translated as “integration” or “absorption.” The eighth limb is the practice of the entire program (the other seven limbs) as well as the final attainment of being. Through Dharana and Dhyana samadhi unfolds.
Living in Union with Your Higher Self
The liberation of this state comes from transcending the confines of the ego. You are no longer wrapped up in the trappings of like, dislike, judgment, worry, and fear. You become completely absorbed in the present moment, at all times, while remaining in total awareness. This is a pure state of being. As you go through your daily tasks, you are no longer replaying the past or looking into the future. You are immersed in the enjoyment of each moment as a sacred act.
Samadhi brings you freedom from the cycle of karma, which is a result of never-ending desires (vasanas) and memories (sanskaras). What this means is that you will still have desires, such as hugging your children or eating food, but you won’t be a prisoner of the melodramatic cycle that karma brings. As the ego is continually concerned with what’s “me” and “mine,” your higher self knows that there is never a lack of anything because there is no separateness. Therefore, all fear subsides and what is left is pure love.
The Ultimate in Manifestation
Since there is no separation between you and the object of your desire, you will experience instantaneous manifestation. In the state of samadhi, you cannot see anything but oneness between yourself (the subject) and anything else (the object). The translation of absorption for the word samadhi explains this phenomenon. If you are not separate from that which you desire, then you already have the object of your desires. So theoretically, when you desire your soulmate, money, a baby, a new job, or a new house, from a place of samadhi, your energy field attracts it because you are it and it is you.
Worry, anxiety, and fear are all the polar opposites of samadhi because those states stem from the false notion that there is some sort of wall in between your needs, wants, and desires and their fulfillment.
Manifestation power in this state goes beyond detachment of the fifth and sixth limbs and surrender of the seventh limb because in those instances you are still entertaining the idea that you are separate from your Divine essence. But in samadhi, you are the Divine Creator, fully realized, as the illusion of anything separate falls away like an old layer of skin.
Sat Chit Ananda
As we reach the state of pure bliss (ananda), all of our suffering goes away. We truly realize we are in this world but not of this world. This enlightened view allows for clarity in all including clairvoyance—knowledge of past, present, and future, and the mental state of others—complete control of the senses, and even supernatural powers.
Even beliefs have no place, in this state, as beliefs are notions, ideas, and concepts whereas Samadhi comes from true experience. The sense of knowingness illuminates you from the inside out and no one or nothing can take away what you know to be true.
False and Lower Samadhis
Like a flitting butterfly, samadhi is elusive to those who directly seek it. Yet, this eternal bliss is something we all seek. Many who seek heavenly bliss turn to drugs, alcohol, pornography, excessive eating or shopping, gambling, or incessant play of video games. While all of these activities can take us to pleasurable present moments, which may seem transcendent, these are known as false samadhis. They actually create a karmic deficit that brings us to lower lows even though the highs feel so good.
Lower samadhis, which don’t create deficits, are experiences we can have in peak experiences, such as climbing up to a mountain peak, a “runner’s high,” or intimacy with a loved one. These experiences create momentary oneness and help us to understand transcendence.
The Essence of Yoga
And so we end where we began. We understand fully from whence we came and embrace also where we are going. In the final sutra, Patanjali speaks of Kaivalya, or independence, absoluteness, and liberation—the results of which are a gift from attainment of pure awareness.
Practicing the eight limbs of yoga reflects a roadmap given to us by Patanjali to free us from the confines of social conditioning, collective ego, and personal ego. Constant discipline and daily practice help each of us to rise up and break the old patterns and habits. While we might not attain samadhi in this lifetime, we are certainly better off and more evolved as humans when we practice the eight limbs.
Finally, as you grow, remember to treat yourself with compassion, love, understanding, and forgiveness. You will fail, fall back into your old patterns, and forget what you’ve learned—that is inevitable. Always remember your own divinity. Remember that you are filled with absolute love and nothing less. And most of all, remember that’s it’s a journey and not a destination.
- Poetry expressing Meditation
All Our Waves are Water: Stumbling Towards Enlightenment and the Perfect Ride
All Our Waves Are Water speaks to all of our sojourns through loss, self-discovery, and an earnest attempt to awaken.
Instead of nirvana being located in a transcendent realm beyond the human condition, it would be restored to its rightful place at the heart of what it means each moment to be fully human. Rather an devoutly repeating what as been said many times before, your risk expressing your understanding in your own own stammering voice.
Meditation is poetry.
If You Knew
What if you knew you’d be the last
to touch someone?
If you were taking tickets, for example,
at the theater, tearing them,
giving back the ragged stubs,
you might take care to touch that palm,
brush your fingertips
along the life line’s crease.
When a man pulls his wheeled suitcase
too slowly through the airport, when
the car in front of me doesn’t signal,
when the clerk at the pharmacy
won’t say Thank you, I don’t remember
they’re going to die.
A friend told me she’d been with her aunt.
They’d just had lunch and the waiter,
a young gay man with plum black eyes,
joked as he served the coffee, kissed
her aunt’s powdered cheek when they left.
Then they walked half a block and her aunt
dropped dead on the sidewalk.
How close does the dragon’s spume
have to come? How wide does the crack
in heaven have to split?
What would people look like
if we could see them as they are,
soaked in honey, stung and swollen,
reckless, pinned against time?
Even though he’s not represented in this work, elsewhere Galway Kinnell said, “Poetry is somebody standing up, so to speak, and saying, with as little concealment as possible, what it is for him or her to be on earth at this moment.” There is much of this kind of truth telling in these poems.
POEM ON MINDFULNESS
In her unassuming way, Salzberg said some profound things, bit of wisdom that could change your life in radical fashion. She describes mindfulness as getting beyond our biases for experience. That is, jettisoning rules, pre-conceived ideas, and so forth. This is nothing short of freedom. The usual way of perceiving, by implication, is bondage.
We are very attached to our rules. We each carry around a rule book, filled with implicit and explicit rules. It’s a code of conduct for ourselves and others. It contains a litany of hopes, and is dedicated to comfort, convenience, and consistency. Freedom lives beyond these rules.
The Xinxinming is an ancient Chinese poem written by Sengcan. The first few lines in this translation from Richard B. Clarke (presented in Mu Soeng’s, Trust in Mind: The Rebellion of Chinese Zen) boldly asserts:
The Great Way is not difficult
for those who have no preferences.
When love and hate are both absent
everything becomes clear and undisguised.
Make the smallest distinction, however,
and heaven and earth are set infinitely apart.
Sharon Salzberg alludes to the same sentiment. When you stop pushing and pulling against your experience, you can open to what is with clarity and peace. Heaven and earth are together. Persist in holding to opinions and buttressing your sense of self worth with these opinions than you are afflicted with what Sengcan calls “the disease of the mind.”
We don’t become tasteless, colorless, and inert when we give up these preferences. Instead, we become unencumbered. With all the space created by ending the ceaseless parade of likes and dislikes we can breathe, rest, and get perspective on life.
In one word, how would you describe the relationship between your mind and body? One reader’s answer: “Compelling.”
6. A Meditation on Working with Anxiety
This meditation combines breath awareness, the body scan, and mindfulness of thoughts to explore sources of stress and anxiety.
his practice combines mindful breathing, the body scan, and mindfulness of thoughts with mindful self-inquiry. Mindful self-inquiry is an investigation into the nature of one’s own mind and being. That inquiry looks into physical sensations, emotions, and thoughts that may be contributing to stress and anxiety. In your daily life, you may be so busy doing that you feel you have little or no time for self-reflection. Yet this exploration is extremely worthwhile, as fears often lie beneath the surface of awareness.
By going with what’s happening rather than expending energy fighting or turning away from it, you create the opportunity to gain insight into what’s driving your concerns.
When you practice mindful self-inquiry, you bring kind awareness and acknowledgment to any stressed or anxious feelings in the body and mind and simply allow them to be. This means staying with those feelings without analyzing, suppressing, or encouraging them. Although this may seem scary in and of itself, realize that when you allow yourself to feel and acknowledge your worries, irritations, painful memories, and other difficult thoughts and emotions, this often helps them dissipate. By going with what’s happening rather than expending energy fighting or turning away from it, you create the opportunity to gain insight into what’s driving your concerns. When you begin to understand the underlying causes of your apprehension, freedom and a sense of spaciousness naturally emerge. In essence, this is a process of learning to trust and stay with feelings of discomfort rather than trying to escape from or analyze them. This often leads to a remarkable shift; time and again your feelings will show you everything you need to know about them—and something you need to know for your own well-being.
To allow you to fully experience this meditation, we recommend that you listen to the audio version. However, you can also simply read the text below. If you choose to do so, read through the entire script first to familiarize yourself with the practice, then do the practice, referring back to the text as needed and pausing briefly after each paragraph. Take about thirty minutes for the practice. You can do this practice in a seated position, standing, or even lying down. Choose a position in which you can be comfortable and alert.
As we begin this practice, let’s take a moment to welcome and congratulate ourselves in being here — that we’re actually taking this time to be present, to go inside, into our own lives.
Let’s take a few moments to feel that we are in the mind and body with a mindful check in: Feeling any sensations, any holdings, any tightness in the body as well as feeling into your mood, feeling into our emotions, and just acknowledging whatever’s being felt and letting be. Just feeling how we are with awareness and acknowledging whatever there is to be felt.
Now very gently, withdrawing the awareness from the mindful check-in, let’s bring our attention to the breath: Being mindful of the breath in the abdomen, expanding on an inhalation and falling on an exhalation. Breathing in and breathing out with awareness. Breathing normally and breathing naturally, feeling the rise and fall of the abdomen. This type of mindful breathing can help calm us down when we are feeling anxious, feeling fearful, so just be mindful of the breath coming in and going out — breathing in and out with awareness.
If we find in the silences that our mind has wandered off, compassionately, gently making them note “wandering” and coming back to the breath and the abdomen, breathing in and breathing out with awareness. Slowing our lives down, taking it one inhalation and one exhalation at a time. Breathing in and breathing out with awareness — breathing in and breathing out, moment to moment.
Now gently withdrawing the awareness from breathing, we’ll shift our focus to a body scan. Feeling into this body, into the world of sensations, thoughts, and emotions, and acknowledging whatever is being experienced — just like a meteorologist will objectively report the weather and the outside, we as mindfulness practitioners are like internal meteorologists reporting the weather objectively on the inside. So whatever it is that we’re feeling in the body, in the mind, let’s just acknowledge whatever is being felt and let be.
Let’s bring the focus of our awareness into the soles of each of our feet, getting to feel the heels, bottom of the feet, the toes, the top of the feet, behind into the Achilles tendon, and gently above into the ankles joints, feeling each of the feet up to the ankles with awareness and just acknowledging whatever is felt in the body or potentially in the mind. Feeling into the feet, into the ankles, letting the awareness rise up into each of the lower legs, and to the calves, the shins, and coming up into the knee joints — feeling into the body with awareness.
Now, letting the awareness rise up from the lower legs and knees into the upper legs, into the thighs, our hamstrings, quadriceps, feeling into the upper legs, and feeling its connection up into the hip joints, feeling sensations, the felt sense of the body. Feeling into the thighs, into the hips, and letting be. Letting the awareness come up into the hips, into the pelvic girdle, into the center of the body, feeling the sit bones, the buttocks, genital region — great systems within of elimination, reproduction — feeling into the center of this body with awareness, within the hips and the pelvic girdle. Whatever arises in the body, or perhaps at times even in the mind and emotions, acknowledging and letting be. Letting the awareness rise into the tailbone and then gently coming up into the lower back, up the spine into the middle, eventually into the upper back, feeling sensations in the back with awareness, and letting be.
As we go through this body we may notice from time to time tensions, tightness, achy-ness,and if we can allow any of these areas to soften, by all means, let that happen. It’s also important to know that if we are unable to soften, our practice informs us to let be. Let whatever sensations ripple and resonate wherever they need to go — the same applies even to our thoughts and emotions, letting them be.
Feeling into the back with awareness, letting the awareness begin rise up into each of the shoulders and the shoulder blades. Then gently bringing the awareness down each of the upper arms, into the elbows, into the forearms, the wrists, and the hands, feeling sensations from the shoulders to the fingertips and letting be.
Withdrawing the awareness now from the shoulders to the fingertips and placing our attention into the belly. Great system of digestion, assimilation, feeling into the belly with the awareness. Whatever sensations that may be felt: tightness, nervousness, “just right-ness” — whatever’s there, acknowledging, and letting be as we feel into our guts, into the belly with awareness.
Now letting the awareness rise up into the skin of the chest, into the breast, to the sternum, and rib cage. Then feeling into the great systems of ventilation, of the lungs, and circulation of the heart. Feeling into the chest with awareness and being mindful of whatever comes up in the body. Letting any waves of thoughts, emotions, sensations ripple and resonate where ever they need to go. Feeling into the chest with awareness.
Now bringing the awareness from the chest back up into the shoulders again. Feeling the shoulders and its connections into the neck and throat, being present.
Now letting the awareness from the shoulders and neck and throat come up into the jaw joint. One of the most exercised joints in the body, home of communication, home of how we take in food — feeling into the jaw, into the mouth, into the teeth, and tongue, and letting be. Feeling into the cheeks of the face, into the sinus passages, into the temples, the head, and the forehead. Feeling into the eyes and the muscles around the eyes. Feeling into the facial structure. Feeling into the top, into the back of the head, feeling sensations, and letting be. Feeling in through the ears, into the inside of the head into the brain. Feeling the face and head with awareness.
Now gently connecting the face and head with the neck and throat, and with the shoulders and arms, and the hands, the chest, the belly, the back, the hips, the legs, and feet, feeling the body as a whole from head to toe fingertip. As we breathe in feeling the body rising ever so gently on the inhalation and falling on the exhalation.
As we’re feeling into this body and mind, we may at times continue to experience some anxious thoughts, worries, fears, and there are times when we can use the practice of mindfulness, of inquiry, of investigating to discover potentially the underlying causes of our fears. If it appears that even after practicing the body scan and mindful breathing that we’re persisting with some anxious feelings, bringing attention to those feelings themselves now to acknowledge what’s being felt, feeling into the fear. As I say this, I want to say this with a word of compassion and gentleness, just like on a hot day if we would like to go swimming and we put our toes into the water and react with such coldness that through the gradual acclimation of dipping the toes in and out of the water we acclimate to the temperature and slowly, part by part, our body becomes accustomed to the temperature of the water and we go swimming. Very gently dipping the toes into feeling the fear, just acknowledging what’s there, letting be, feeling into the fear with awareness — there’s no need to try to analyze or figure things out, just feeling into the experience of feeling anxious, fearful, worried, and letting be. And whatever arise, equally acknowledging and letting be, feeling into the heart of fear.
Just listening with such compassion. No need to push ourselves more than we can handle but just working with the edges, feeling into the anxiety and acknowledging. As we learn to be with things as they are, we may discover the underlying causes of our fear and pain.
As we learn to be with things as they are, we may discover the underlying causes of our fear and pain.
And now gently withdrawing from the mindful inquiry practice. Let’s just come back to the breath again, in and out, feeling in the abdomen the belly expanding on the inhalation and falling on the isolation. Breathing in and breathing out, with awareness. Just staying present to each breath, in and out.
Now just like we’re watching the breath coming and going, we can even begin in this last practice of watching the very thoughts we think like watching the clouds flying by in the sky, like sitting at the edge of a river just watching whatever is floating downstream. Beginning to observe the mind and even the thoughts of fear are nothing but passing mental phenomena, like clouds, observing any fearful, anxious thoughts as just mental events that come and go — being present to the mind. Just thoughts, just like any of the other senses, of sight, of sound, taste smell, body sensations — all coming and going, all showing the mark of impermanence. Observing the mind, thoughts, noticing the ever changing nature of thoughts showing it’s impermanence. Just coming and going, thinking. As we become aware of thoughts and the traps we find ourselves in in that moment, we can become free. Just thoughts.
And now gently withdrawing our awareness from the mindfulness of thoughts, let’s come back to the breath in the abdomen. Just be mindful breathing in and breathing out. Now as we begin to end this meditation on working with anxiety let’s take a moment to remember all those that are being challenged with these feelings, all those living with fear, worry — let us extend our well wishes of healing, of peace, to all those living in fear.
May we take these moments now to congratulate ourselves of proactively turning into the fears into working with them. May we affirm, as we acclimate ourselves to the fears, that we can not be so challenged by them. May all beings, all those anywhere that live in fear, may we remember to be held in the cradle of the heart of the universe, and that we have not been forsaken. May all being, wherever they are, may they be free from fear, and may all beings be at peace.
This article has been adapted from A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook by Bob Stahl PhD and Elisha Goldstein.
- TEACHING KIDS TO MEDITATE
Life is going to be stressful, life is going to be hectic. But if you can find that place of inner peace within you that you can always tap into, you can deal with life and the struggles inwardly and outwardly.
I think there’s some recent research, or at least I think it’s recent, that at 18 deep breaths is when the parasympathetic nervous system begins to get triggered. And that’s the fancy phrase for the response to relaxation, or that the system that kicks in to find a more relaxed state in the body. So, can you walk us through like how do you train somebody to take a deep breath?
Ali: Most people are used to taking a deep breath, they do the stomach and chest out thing, and but you’re not using your lower lungs where most of your lung capacity is. So it’s usually just getting someone to sit up straight, as long as your spine is straight and taking a hand to put it on your belly. All the breaths are going to be in and out of your nose, because your nose is the filter so you get a lot of benefits just by breathing it out through your nose. You’re just going to inhale and expand your belly as much as you can, you feel like you’re filling your belly up with air, it’s actually your lower lungs expanding with the help of your diaphragm. Then you get to hold onto that breath for a second and you leave your hand where it is, and you exhale and pull your belly away from your hand, creating space between your belly and a hand on that exhale measure, pulling your belly button to your spine. And most people think the inhale is really important, which it is, but the exhale is just as important because it’s pushing all that stale CO2 out of your body and it’s also get rid of all those ruminating thoughts, just like a link between your breath and your thoughts. Those stale thoughts are usually like stale air in your body and you can push the stale air out, you can push the stale thoughts out, you kind of hit the reset button and clear your mind. So it’s just a movement of your belly and the expansion of just a slow, long deep breath, as long and as deep as you can make it, and you’ll feel yourself start to slow down down.
Michael: And then do you have a particular cadence, like four up, six out, anything?
Ali: I mean, when we’re first starting we just let them go, because most people aren’t used to taking a deep breath. So we just let them go for whatever is comfortable. Ideally, it’s a one to two ratio. So if you inhale for five, you exhale for ten.
How To Love
Thich Nhat Hanh brings his signature clarity, compassion, and humor to the question of how to love. He distills one of our strongest emotions down to four essentials: you can only love another when you feel true love for yourself; love is understanding; understanding brings compassion; deep listening and loving speech are key ways of showing our love.
- Our Animal Teachers
The meditation room was perfectly quiet. The thirty-plus meditators, including my husband Adán and I, were all taking our practice very seriously — breathing in and out, a statue of the Buddha looking serenely down on us.
Then, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a spider lowering itself from the ceiling on a thread of silk. It was dangling exactly between me and the man to my left. But subtle, virtually imperceptible shifting air currents were enough to blow the spider into my space. Wanting no part of those tiny legs, I leaned to the right, toward Adán. He noticed and now neither of us were meditating. What were we supposed to do? We couldn’t disturb the sacrosanct silence.
Suddenly the air current forced the spider sharply left so that it almost landed on the man’s arm, but he had his eyes closed and had no idea. When I saw Adán’s eyebrows raise in alarm, the situation struck me as terribly funny, and I had to struggle not to laugh. My laughter infected Adán, and until the bell rang we shook in silent, heaving hilarity as the spider swung like a pendulum. For the rest of the day, I didn’t take myself so seriously. The practice felt as light as a silk thread.
I don’t believe that the spider’s purpose was to teach me anything. That spider, like every animal, has its own personal trajectory — its own concerns about food, shelter, and reproducing that have nothing to do with me. But sometimes on the path we meet an animal like the spider, and we learn from it.
Training her mind, training her dog — Mary Rose O’Reilley on the pleasures and pitfalls of learning to sit without barking.
Some would say that dogs have no spiritual nature, but I am too much of a Franciscan to believe that. When I lead my animals into the meditation room, I go with them not only as a teacher, but as a member of an eccentric sangha. Our training in stability and inner quiet evolves as a kind of mutual illumination. When I am calm, riding the current of breath, the dogs pick up on it, and when they are at peace, I let their rest quiet me.
In front of my meditation cushion is an altar where I keep my Tibetan bell, an image of Kwan Yin, an icon of the Virgin Mary, and a screaming red plastic hotdog that squeaks when you squeeze it.
When I tell people I’m teaching my dog to meditate, they snicker, be they Buddhists or dog trainers. But meditation is, among other things, simply a long down-stay. We show up, shut up, and hold a space. Both humans and dogs need to learn these skills. Twenty-five years ago I adopted a border collie whose needs ate into my early morning prayer time. I began multitasking. I’d meditate with her beside me on command. Once she learned not to bite out the candle flame, things went better.
People meditate for many reasons, among them, to enter a space of holy presence, to train the mind in stability and peace, and to work with deep-seated emotional patterns. Many dharma teachers speak of “purifying the unconscious” in ways that bring healing light to what lies hidden within us.
Is any of this useful for dogs? Some would say that dogs have no spiritual nature, but I am too much of a Franciscan to believe that. When I lead my animals into the meditation room, I go with them not only as a teacher, but as a member of an eccentric sangha. Our training in stability and inner quiet evolves as a kind of mutual illumination. When I am calm, riding the current of breath, the dogs pick up on it, and when they are at peace, I let their rest quiet me.
I bring my current puppy, Ani, to Kwan Yin. I’ve reached the end of my rope trying to train this flibbertigibbet. Let’s note that there are two struggling contemplatives here: Ani and her witless human companion.
I had such high hopes for this puppy, and though hope is a legitimate focus, it’s unwise to skip blithely to attachment, especially when goals are idealistic. After almost forty years of contemplative practice I still struggle with the basics: expect nothing and live calmly with the dogs that life gives you. In my case, those have been challenging dogs. In the last thirty years, I’ve made homes for Toby, the incorrigible runaway; Shep, who stole food so obsessively that I had to tie a bungee cord around the refrigerator; and, lately, Star, who herds my grandchildren.
I resolved this time around not to fall for the first pair of sad eyes at the shelter. I researched gentle dogs, child-friendly dogs. I looked into breeding and bloodlines and settled with a sigh and a wad of cash on a nine-pound coton de tulear whom I brought home from a conscientious breeder. Cotons are tiny dogs with clownish personalities set deep in a cloud of white hair. My partner, Robin, and I are hospice volunteers and we wanted a little doggie assistant. I could imagine a tiny, white dog snuggling up to a sick person.
At the breeder’s house, a five-month-old puppy trotted up and pointedly chose me—but maybe not to be a therapy partner. A few weeks later, when I had to write down her breed at the puppy socialization class, I carefully inscribed “hellcat.”
“Hmm,” said the trainer. “That’s a new one for me.”
Ani was aggressive and barked insanely from the get-go. She was soon exiled from puppy soc, and then from doggie daycare—the caregivers kind enough to label her “shy,” rather than “a killer weasel.” She air-snapped the other dogs and yowled and screamed on walks. She also got herself blacklisted at my local big-box pet store. Considering the amount of money I was spending there, that’s like getting thrown out of Macy’s for sobbing over the merchandise. Then she bit me, leaving an inflamed circle of tiny tooth marks and a black and blue stain on my arm. It wasn’t personal. My arm got in the way of her crazed charge at the car window when a German shepherd jumped in her face.
As one by one the best dog trainers in town gave up on us, I desperately tried to develop a plan to save Ani’s vocation. Under hospital conditions, she would most likely bark at a wheelchair or oxygen tank—not to mention someone using a walker, or a mannerly therapy dog. Clearly, training her was a job for Kwan Yin.
Three months into our time together, Ani has learned the meaning of “go to place,” but I don’t order her onto the meditation mat beside my cushion. When she follows me into the meditation room, I put a treat on the floor in front of her. It’s the same principle Jewish mothers use when they offer children a spoonful of honey with the Torah. I sit on my cushion and ring the bell. When she comes anywhere near me, I place a treat on the floor. Within two days—to my surprise—she is seeking her meditation space, flopping down and lolling with soft eyes.
My high-strung dog needs relaxation to keep her below her panic threshold; she’s quickly at ease in the meditation room, but her practice develops slowly. Sometimes she lies quietly on the padded mat, sometimes she chews it, sometimes she potties on it. But she shows up.
“Small dog, small brain, small bladder,” says the vet as she runs her hands over Ani’s supple muscles. I have just confided my puppy’s unwillingness to housetrain.
“Listen, you have to have different expectations for these little dogs. They are not on your border collie schedule.”
About Ani’s barking, the vet offers a diagnosis: she is “highly reactive.” Also, she is short. Ani greets bigger dogs with a blitzkrieg of shrieking, which makes them retreat with their paws over their ears. In other words, the behavior works for her.
Now at one year of age, she is, at least, no longer aggressive, and she joyously bounds into “Pint-Sized Play” to romp with small dogs off-leash. No more snaps at people or canids, and, 95 percent of the time, she potties outside. What’s left? Mainly the soprano shrieks with which she meets other leashed dogs, bicyclists, and, indeed, anything untoward. Therapy dogs must pass a Canine Good Citizen test, and they cannot pee on the floor 5 percent of the time.
I go to a workshop for “aversive and reactive dogs.” The teacher encourages us to introduce our animals by complimenting them while stating our goals for the class. “Ani,” I say, “is joyous and affectionate. And funny. I think she would do well as a therapy dog, if she could stop barking at everything that moves.” The teacher is a specialist in Tellington TTouch, a kind of doggie massage that aims to calm the animal’s nervous system. Two hours into it, canines are snoring left and right. The humans are pretty calm, too. Rubbing finger circles on your pet is a powerful meditation.
The teacher is also an “animal communicator,” or what might be called a “pet psychic.” At the end of the workshop she “reads” each dog. “Please ask Ani whether she wants to be a therapy dog,” I say. It’s dawning on me that I need to let go of my big ideas.
Our teacher immediately replies, “The flash I get from Ani is of nausea and dread. The phrase going out into the world.”
“So, she’s agoraphobic?”
“Something like that.”
My own little Emily Dickinson.
“If you’re patient with her, she could handle a small number of people,” the teacher says. “But you’ll have to take it very slowly. With her, it’s like trying to train a butterfly.”
Maybe it’s like a butterfly trying to train a butterfly, I think, for in sharing time with Ani on the cushion and mat, I’ve realized how we mirror each other’s feelings and how slowly we both go “out into the world.” I have a boundless capacity to screw up and fly off center. I take in too much information and have to train methodically on a few basics. Emily Dickinson is my favorite poet.
When I was a student at Plum Village, Thich Nhat Hanh taught us this healing meditation: First, center yourself in the breath: Breathing in, I know that I am breathing in. Then allow your feelings into the space of consciousness: I know that I am feeling… Furious, perhaps, with this hairy little diva! Then, Breathing in, I see the deep source of my feelings. Finally, sit quietly with your feelings.
One of our about-to-be-ex-dog trainers—a good and methodical woman, fast with the treats—loses patience one night and yells in my face because in the midst of a complex drill, I and my befuddled puppy have, for the second time, gone left when she’s said “right.” Where Ani is in space, I don’t know; I find myself on some windswept playground cowering before my old teacher Sister Mary Paperweight, fumbling the ball again, tearing up with nerves. Breathing in, I see the deep source of my feeling.
Later, when I meditate with Ani, I meet my demons of shame and perfectionism. We have a laugh together. Ani’s giddy joy offers safe passage to our visitors from the dark side.
Such little windows of enlightenment give me confidence in dog training as spiritual practice. It’s slow going. I’m not sure what Ani is picking up; I’m learning a discipline of leading with the heart (which accepts the dog I have), instead of the brain (which plans, judges, passes, and fails). I’m practicing focus, patience, and surrender of outcomes. One of my daily metta prayers has long been May all beings find their true paths. I must free Ani to find hers.
And Kwan Yin laughs her ineffable laugh, in love with the clueless clowns of this planet. One of them me.
Ani’s Tips for Beginning Meditators
Work below your threshold. Negative feelings simmer under the boil, and you should work with your fears at this level. The time to go to your mat is before you erupt in crazy barking.
Wear your flak jacket. My human companion wraps me in a kind of swaddling band to give me a sense of safety. Some spiritual traditions speak of “the cloak of protection.” Set your intention every day not to be blindsided by orange traffic cones or that bichon.
Smell the flowers, smell the poop. Check out how high a collie can pee. Calling your human to mindful walking is a gift to her. Develop her instinct for being led.
Who says you always have to sit in silence? Ryan Winger explains how you can bring the mind of meditation to the music you love — with friends.
Illustration by Sydney Smith.
Music is the background of our lives—playing in the supermarket, accompanying us as we wait to speak with the next customer service representative, shuffling on our iPhones as we commute to work. Music is ubiquitous, but much of the time we aren’t really listening.
Most of us have had a more attentive experience of music as well—truly listening with a singular focus. When we really pay attention, we can treasure the feeling and energy of the artists and songs that hold a special place in our hearts. Whether in a concert hall, on a busy street corner, or in the privacy of our home, the experience of connecting with music meaningfully is rich, deep, and sometimes profound.
From the perspective of meditation practice, this experience is the result of tuning in to our present experience through the sense perception of sound. We are fully there with the music, experiencing the texture, rhythm, melody, harmony, and progression, riding the waves of sound in real time.
My experience of music as part of a group meditation practice began several years ago, when a handful of us in the Washington, DC, Shambhala community were relatively new and enjoying our first tastes of freshness and inspiration from meditation practice. While we were talking over our experience with meditation, we discovered a mutual appreciation of jazz. We wondered what it would be like to listen to John Coltrane or Sonny Rollins with the same close attention we were applying to our breathing.
At one point, someone said, “Why don’t we get together and meditate, then listen to jazz?” This sparked our first “Music Night.” Here is the format, which you can follow in your own group if you want to try meditating on music.
We meet in a small-group setting (6–12 people) equipped with a stereo system. Each participant brings two pieces of music they feel a connection with. Start with refreshments and conversation for half an hour.
To ground ourselves and come fully into the present moment, we gather in a circle and meditate in silence for 10–15 minutes.
One by one, we offer a piece of music to the group. Sometimes the person offering the music says a few words about their inspiration for selecting it. Sharing something that is meaningful to us, we become naked and vulnerable. The more meaningful the music, the more naked we may feel.
As each person offers their selection, the others practice receiving the music with their full attention. With no need for analysis or commentary, we mostly practice in silence. We go around the entire group at least twice, and sometimes continue listening late into the night.
When we listen openly, we take in much more of the energy and substance of the music—both pleasurable and sometimes not so pleasurable—than we ordinarily do. Paying close attention, we hear things we have never noticed before. We see in vivid detail how we sometimes relate to our experiences through the lenses of passion, aggression, and ignorance.
Although this practice sounds simple and straightforward, from my perspective it can be meaningful, challenging, and profound. Music represents feelings, emotions, colors, and statements that can’t be expressed through words or images. Sensing our shared connection to the music and being fully present with each other, we feel incredibly intimate and warm.
Music is an important part of my life. On Music Night I felt fully seen, with warmth and love and no judgment. It played a significant role in helping me to connect with my own basic goodness and the basic goodness of others, and it can for you too.
1. In work and life, stress and trauma are unavoidable
Long days at the computer, endless deadlines and unrealistic workloads. Financial insecurity, technical frustrations and people you’d prefer not to deal with.
Include vicarious trauma for health professionals, welfare workers and emergency services, and it’s no wonder days lost to stress alone costs Australian employers more than $10 billion per year.
While the experiences that lead to stress and trauma might differ from person to person, what doesn’t vary is that our body responds every single time. And that’s regardlessof the external situation that has caused it.
No doubt talking helps. Indeed, it can be a critical part of the recovery process. But it’s not until our nervous system has fully released our body-based responses that a stressful or traumatic event is truly finally over – in our body as well as our mind.
Thankfully, the human body has an off switch, even though most of us have never been told about it. An innate recovery reflex you’ve most likely experienced yourself, or if not, already seen in others.
Shaking, tremors and trembling
In western cultures, we tend to think shakes and tremors are a symptom of shock or a sign of stress and anxiety. We often shut these autonomic movements down. But they’re not a symptom at all – they are a key part of the solution instead.
These unconscious movements ‘debrief the body’ by discharging shock, dumping adrenaline, relaxing muscle tension and down-regulating the nervous system. This restores us to a calm, relaxed, and balanced state.
Each time we complete this full stress cycle, both the reactive tension and the spontaneous movements that release it, we don’t just recover to how we were beforehand, we grow our body’s physiological resilience and coping capacity as well.
Practising Meditation will bring you out of this cycle. Talk to MS. Sunita.
- YOUR LIFE YOUR POSSIBILITIES
Are you kind and gentle with yourself? Not many of us are.
We can be wonderfully kind to others; opening doors, offering assistance, running errands, volunteering.
But when it comes to ourselves we are not as generous, kind, or gentle.
Your own worst enemy?
Do you have a lot of negative self-talk that goes on when you fall short of your own expectations? Do you berate yourself because you are not as kind or smart as others? Do you verbally abuse yourself because you find it hard to forget and forgive?
This was me.
I lived like this for a long time. I was my own worst enemy, saying terrible things to myself; never kind, always hurtful, ultimately damaging my self -esteem, causing sadness and hurt.
It takes time to realise if you have been doing this to yourself. When you stop and listen to what you really say to yourself you might be shocked. And if you are, you can certainly turn it around.
You can be kind and gentle to yourself. You are the only person with you for your entire life. Be your own best friend because self- esteem has to come from within.
And what a wonderful, amazing, brilliant life it can become by only changing the way you speak to yourself.
Once you acknowledge that you have been treating yourself badly you can begin. When you find yourself berating yourself, just stop it. Stop trash-talking yourself.
And how do you do this?
There is another way
Find a symbol that will work for you. Use this symbol as a warning sign. Find one that you can conjure up in the blink of an eye. Visualise it. See it in your mind. Perhaps use a blue door, a stop sign, a bottomless pit. My naturopath gave me the blue door visualization and it always worked for me.
This door (or symbol) can be representative of the place you allow yourself to go where all the doubt, negativity and fear you carry around lives. Now imagine that every time you bring yourself to this place, you are falling into the trap of belittling yourself again. See yourself step up to the door. The key is to notice where you are and not to open it. Instead, back away from the door. This helps you to stop, pause, and to not indulge the voice.
There will be times when you find you have stepped inside. Don’t berate yourself here, just acknowledge that this has happened and stop yourself. Back out of the door and close it. See this happen in your mind. Keep trying, keep working at it. Eventually you don’t even need to visualise the door anymore because it will no longer be necessary.
Take a look in the mirror
Next, try mirror work. The book MIrror Work by Louise Hay is a good tool to have. In the book she teaches the ideas and tips that have worked for her over the years, and they can work for you. Louise then uses positive affirmations to help you with this process that takes time but is so rewarding. To practise is to change your life, how you feel about yourself, about raising your self-esteem like only you can.
At first mirror work can feel awkward and difficult because many of us choose not to look into our own eyes. We don’t like what we see. It may take you awhile before you can actually look back at yourself. And that is ok. Give it some time and you will become more comfortable with this process.
It was this way for me when I first began. I had never spent any time looking at myself, even when I was standing right there putting on makeup or drying my hair. So it felt really weird at first, especially when I confronted myself, the voice that was me, inside.
I was cruel to myself, shamefully so. I can’t imagine speaking to another person in this way yet it was so amazingly easy to do it to myself.
And I slipped up. I could not find it in myself to forgive and so I fell into the berating trap once again. The last time was hardest of all because I had been practising being kinder to myself.
To look into the mirror was to see the pain that I was inflicting on myself.
Switch off the negative voice
It hurt and I was devastated. I put my hand to the mirror, apologising, crying, realising, and making a decision. This led me to become a friend, swearing never to be cruel in this way again. Using positive affirmations for myself, being kind and gentle became more natural for me.
Now it is easier to look at myself in the mirror, to smile at myself, and to give compliments, believing in them and in myself.
Learning to turn off the negative voice takes away its power over you. It can no longer hurt you. And if you slip, you acknowledge that, forgive yourself and get past it.
Tell yourself you are loving, kind, and be gentle. Let this shine out at the world and to you from your mirror. The world truly is a beautiful place that you can fill with love.And it all starts with you being kinder and gentler to you.
To dream of a body losing its head or being decapitated can be horrifying, and may also involve some other attacking or fighting. But other times, a headless body in a dream or a head with no body can seem more bizarre than disturbing, as if you are somehow separated from the feelings of this dream.
If this is the case, and someone headless in a dream makes you feel a bit surreal, distanced or separate, this could be a good indication this dream is showing you that your head and heart are not in balance – one may be dominating the other. It may be your head is controlling your heart and you are being overly rational. Consider where in your life you feel disjointed from your feelings, where you may be behaving too intellectually and not letting your emotions flow. This often happens when we are afraid of letting ourselves feel for fear of pain or humiliation.
Remembering that other people in your dreams are often simply reflections of your own self, to dream of chopping off someone’s head may be a symbol of an attack on some kind of belief you yourself hold.
Conversely, maybe your emotions are running out of control and you need to stop and take a moment to think logically about things. Your dreams may be suggesting you pause and consider where your intense feelings may be taking you. Maybe you have been behaving so irrationally that you are “losing your head.”
If, however, decapitation or headless body in a dream does make you feel disturbed or upset, there could be a different meaning. Like attacking dreams, to dream of decapitation can symbolise an area in your life where you feel vulnerable, criticised by others, or are being critical of yourself. Remembering that other people in your dreams are often simply reflections of your own self, to dream of chopping off someone’s head may be a symbol of an attack on some kind of belief you yourself hold. Which of your current ideas and ways of thinking are being challenged right now?
The head is the top of our body, so in dreams it may be a symbol for the top or pinnacle of something you are striving towards. It may also relate to a “head of state” or a “head of a company.” Ask yourself why this dream of being headless or decapitated has come up for you now – are there issues of dominance or ambition in your life? Have you become so overly ambitious that you are sacrificing things that are really important to you? Maybe you are neglecting your health or those you care about in your efforts to “get ahead.”
A dream of headless body, bodiless head or of decapitation may be asking you where your emotions and logic are not in balance, and invite you to reunite the areas of your life that seem separate or disjointed.
- TIDAL WAVES
Last entry I explained how water in dreams can often represent the state of your emotional or spiritual self. How then does this apply to a tidal wave dream, tsunami dream or dreams of huge waves?
Tidal waves dreams often feel very stressful, creating a sense of anxiety and even mounting panic. You may be standing on shore watching the wave approaching from a distance, you may be frantically trying to flee from it or save others from it, or you may even be submerged by it. The dreams may recur frequently over a number of nights, or at certain periods of your life, and the wave may even become bigger and closer over subsequent dreams.
Tidal wave dreams commonly appear at times when you are under a lot of pressure or going through a period of significant change. The huge waves can represent the surging of your emotions in a situation where you feel overwhelmed or unprepared to cope with what is occurring in life, where you may be procrastinating, or not facing up to your true feelings about something. It may be a looming deadline, a test or exam, moving house or changing jobs, or the end of a certain period of your life and the anticipation and fear of what the next chapter will be. Or as water relates to emotions, tidal wave dreams may arise at the beginning of new relationships, as you may even feel overwhelmed at how much you feel for someone! But tidal wave dreams, like most dreams, often work on many levels. Whether external pressures are dominant in your life or not, tidal wave dreams will often indicate a period of significant internal change.
The best way to deal with tidal wave dreams, like anything in dreams that is intimidating, is to confront it. You can sit and remember your dream while awake, re-imagining a new ending, or you may even remember that you are dreaming next time a tidal wave dream happens, and lucidly choose your new reaction. And how is the best way to “face up to” a tidal wave? You may choose to dive into the wave, which can be a wonderful feeling that may even result in learning to breathe underwater – this is an exciting sign that you are learning to understand the deepest forces that drive you, and to work with rather than against them. Or maybe you don’t want to go so deep, and you feel this dream is a reminder not to get too heavy with the emotions, and in this case you may decide the best thing to do is to surf the wave – and then you may realise how exhilarating it can be to live authentically in harmony with your deepest Self.
- MEDICINE MOON By KIRA SUTHERLAN
As a naturopath, nutritionist and astrologer, I love combining my favourite topics — like mixing ingredients for soup — to produce elixirs for healing. Your chart provides insight into your physical strengths and weaknesses, your constitutional health and any wellness challenges you might face. Through medical astrology you can focus your attention on a unique segment of your chart in order to balance at least one part of your dynamic makeup.
I love to work with the natal Moon. Even if you don’t know your birth time, you can look up your Moon sign in books or websites. If you do have your entire natal chart, you can also consider the house of your Moon. We’ll stick to the Moon sign for this article.
Besides the Sun, the Moon is the most visible body in the sky. The Moon is connected to your feelings, your home, security, the Mother, and shows how you get your needs met. The Moon shows what you need to feed and nourish your soul; it describes where you get your “soul food”.
From a medical astrology perspective, key words for the Moon include: receptive, nurturing, enfolding, instinct, intuition, emotion, rhythms and cycles. The Moon rules the fluids of the body, the mucus membranes, the uterus, the breasts and chest region, the stomach and upper digestive function.
Emotions & eating
The Moon is considered feminine, cold, moist and nutritive. She rules daily habits, both good and bad, is liable to fluctuations and moods, and is greatly to blame for your chosen eating patterns along with any emotional links to disease.
The Moon can create havoc with your health and wellbeing on a physical and emotional level. Health is a balancing act; when you feel amazing and healthy, the universe can throw you a curve ball and suddenly it feels the opposite.
Support your Moon
How can you support your Moon so that she can nurture you? I love to explain to clients the importance of making health a daily ritual and of creating supportive habits. Knowing your weaknesses will help you recognise when you are self-sabotaging and going astray.
The little choices you make every day have the most impact on your overall health and longevity. Tips for each of the Moon signs are listed below. If you don’t know your Moon sign, read for your Sun or star sign instead.
This article is in no way intended to replace a medical diagnosis and care must be taken with natural medicine as it, too, can cause issues and interactions with other medications. Please seek medical advice when in doubt.
You may be childlike, overstimulated, busy and always rushing about. This can deplete your energy reserves and tax your adrenal glands. You might push your body to exhaustion. You’ll need to learn to stop and rest, or there will be nothing left in your tank. You may be a quick eater, or choose fast foods and ready-made meals so you don’t need to slow down to eat. Indigestion, heartburn and bloating can result from these food choices and lack of chewing.
As Aries rules the head region, you may be prone to headaches, fevers and head colds. You can be quite pain sensitive and may experience redness, swelling and inflammation more quickly than other signs. When feeling unwell, you need alone time in quiet surroundings to recuperate. Being fussed over will only cause aggravation and a few sharp words.
- Fir diet (see table)
- Cooling foods; decrease onions, garlic and spices
- Swimming, especially in the ocean
- Really resting, reading and journaling
- Bach flowers: impatiens, olive and larch
- Herbal teas: peppermint, nettle, green and liquorice tea
You likely have a strong and sturdy constitution with great stamina and endurance when under stress. You might lean towards a more compact body shape, with easy muscle-building capacity. Since Taurus rules the five senses, including taste, you’ll need to monitor any tendency to overindulge in food and drink. This leads to easier weight gain for you than for some other Moon signs.
You may be seldom unwell as this is a strong Moon sign that can easily overcome illnesses that put weaker signs in bed for weeks. The downside to this strength is you may have an uncompromising or stubborn nature, which can make it difficult to change lifestyle and eating habits. Areas of disturbance include bowels, throat and thyroid. When unwell, you need positive people and music to lighten the burden of feeling sick.
- Earth diet (see table)
- Lighter meals, salads, bitter foods and soups
- Routine and regular habits
- Exercise and movement (try something with music involved)
- Temperance with food and alcohol
- Hot water with lemon slices or apple cider vinegar
- Bach flowers: gentian, oak, walnut, crab apple
- Herbal teas: dandelion, chai and digestive teas, chamomile, elderberry and lemon balm
You may love to study, learn and search for new information, which can lead to a nervous system that is overtaxed or frazzled. You might be high energy and then experience exhaustion all within a few hours, especially if you don’t take regular time out to replenish your energy stores and nourish your nerves. You might be so busy that you forget to eat or drink on a regular basis; this can lead to dehydration and blood sugar issues.
Learning to check in with your body — and not just using your brilliant mind — will go a long way to supporting your overall health. When unwell you may crave a change of environment, lots of fresh air to support your lungs, and light exercise in natural surrounds to ground and recharge your nerves.
- Air diet (see table)
- Mind- and nerve-building foods such as: seeds and nuts, olive oil and avocado
- Protein foods that are not dairy, as Gemini Moon can have a tendency for mucus congestion
- Grounding and outdoor activity
- Sunshine and salt water
- Bach flowers: cerato, clematis, mimulus
- Herbal teas: nettle, lemon balm, skullcap and echinacea
You are the nurturer extraordinaire of the zodiac but must remember to “self-care” as well. You may suffer from digestive upsets, emotional eating or worry, which can make digestive upset worse. You may have great imaginative skills but this can lead to worry and anxiety over imagined health issues, even hypochondria if left too long. The chest region is liable to mucus congestion and, if you’re female, there can be period and hormonal issues.
When things are not flowing well emotionally for you, things also tend not to flow well physically. You’ll crave nurturing and mothering from others when unwell, with access to whatever body of water is closest.
- Water diet (see table)
- Nurturing foods like soups and stews
- Watch the emotional eating and find another outlet not involving food
- Ocean, bath or other forms of water immersion
- Company and socialising with nurturing friends
- Bach flowers: clematis, walnut, honeysuckle
- Herbal teas: chamomile, peppermint, any digestive tea, lemon verbena
You may have a strong constitution or rarely get sick, and you can push through stress that would knock others down. This is a great asset for getting things done but can lead to burnout or anxiety and panic attacks.
Leo rules the heart and emotional upsets can trigger feelings of panic and heart palpitations as well as blood pressure issues. You may carry your stress in your upper back (thoracic spine). Regular massages or other types of physical treatments are ideal for you. You may not be an easy patient when unwell — Leo can become prickly — and may need to be left on your own to recuperate. Finding gentle activities and exercise such as yoga or Pilates can be great when trying to discharge any pent-up stress.
- Fire diet (see table)
- Adequate water intake with electrolytes
- Exercise involving relaxing movement
- Solitude and journaling your emotions
- Cooling activities such as swimming
- Bach flowers: vervain, vine, oak
- Herbal teas: valerian, motherwort, chamomile
Typical Virgo Moon health problems stem from an overtaxed nervous system, which leads to digestive upset. You may be one of the hardest workers but, combine that with perfectionist tendencies, and you can burn out and become exhausted. Blood sugar issues can also occur if you forgo eating to finish work. If any Moon needs to keep regular hours and have a “health routine”, you do! Meals at regular intervals and a proper sleep routine will go a long way to nourishing your health. Watch for food sensitivities as Virgo rules the small intestine, which can lead to issues of IBS and / or constipation.
- Earth diet (see table)
- Food diary with symptoms to uncover food sensitivities
- Regular routine and sleep
- Hot water with lemon slices
- Nature, grounding and walking in the woods
- Yoga and other gentle forms of exercise
- Bach flowers: centaury, vine, crab apple
- Herbal teas: fennel, dandelion, ginger
With a Libra Moon, you’re all about balance and helping the “other”. This can mean you don’t spend enough time and energy on yourself. Libra Moon rules the urinary system and fluid and hormone balance. Metabolism can be slower and you must be careful to balance food indulgences with good movement and exercise.
When unwell, you may crave company, music and a little movement to get your body back into equilibrium. Remember to give back to yourself rather than always making sure everyone else is happy.
- Air diet (see table)
- Good hydration and an alkaline-style eating
- Seaweed, salads and bitter greens
- Walking, yogaand other forms of exercise
- Music, laughter and fresh air
- Bach flowers: scleranthus, agrimony, sweet chestnut
- Herbal teas: nettle, liquorice, green tea and lemon juice in hot water
If you have a Scorpio Moon, you are strong, resilient and deep! You can have amazing recuperative abilities, which is great as the water Moons are more prone to illnesses due to their magnetic nature. Scorpio rules the reproductive system, the bowels and detoxification processes. Holding on to emotional residue can lead to physical ailments. You may be prone to constipation as well as urinary issues.
Getting your Scorpio Moon to sweat via sports, saunas or hot baths can be a great therapy for both physical and emotional congestion. When unwell, no one needs more alone time than you, so ask for silence and seclusion to support healing.
- Water diet (see table)
- Good hydration practices
- Fresh fruits and vegetables with lots of natural fibre
- Hot water with lemon juice or apple cider vinegar or aloe vera juice
- Nothing in excess, especially salty foods
- Exercise, sweating and water therapies
- Nature, grounding and reflection time or journaling
- Bach flowers: chicory, holly, water violet
- Herbal teas: valerian, dandelion, liquorice or elderberry tea
With such a gregarious Moon, you can over-extend yourself or run into issues of exhaustion and burnout. Your love of freedom, travel and adventure can also lead to accidents and injuries. Overindulging and not wanting to be “limited” in any way can lead to excess food and drink, which puts stress on the liver and digestive system. Exercise is compulsory for you to stay healthy — just don’t do too much or go too fast as your nerves and adrenals can suffer and will need support.
- Fire diet (see table)
- Rest and relax, try reading a book to keep still
- Gentle exercise such as yoga and walking in nature
- Moderation in food and drink
- Sleep, naps and slowing down
- Socialising, music and dancing
- Bach flowers: agrimony, wild oat, impatiens
- Herbal teas: dandelion, nettle and skullcap
The Capricorn Moon has rulership of the skin and skeleton as well as things of form and structure. You may have a colder constitution with little vital heat, or a tendency to melancholy and feeling down. The good news is you get stronger every year. Often, the Capricorn Moon child that had lots of colds and flus will outgrow this to be a strong and healthy adult. You might hide away when unwell or feeling down. Your best therapy is socialising and using music to move you through any down periods. The digestion is not strong and you may need well-cooked foods and soups to bring warmth and nutrients.
- Earth diet
- Digestive bitters and an alkaline-style diet
- Laughter is your best medicine, socialising and contact with friends
- Exercise, walking in nature and the mountains
- Regular sleep routine
- Warming and well-cooked foods
- Temperance with alcohol and fermented foods
- Bach flowers: mimulus, gentian, mustard and water violet
- Herbal teas: chamomile, passionflower, skullcap, yarrow, echinacea
You may be unique and ahead of your time. With such a busy brain and imagination, your nervous system can get overtaxed. Aquarius rules the messages sent via the nerves and you might experience heart palpitations, anxiety or insomnia. The heart and circulation can also be affected, as can the ankles and calves, which are prone to cramps and sprains. The ungrounded nature of this Moon means you might forget to take care of your physical body. If so, a daily routine of exercise and meals can help nourish your physical form. When unwell, you need rest, a lack of mental stimulation and nature if you can be convinced to go outside.
- Air diet (see table)
- Adequate hydration and regular meal times
- Acupuncture and massage
- Exercise and deep breathing or singing
- Socialising and dancing or yoga
- Journaling and creative endeavours
- Bach flowers: water violet, olive, clematis
- Herbal teas: lemon balm, chamomile, skullcap
You are a sensitive soul with an abundance of creativity and intuition. This can lead to a lack of boundaries and exhaustion as you pick up on everyone else’s energy. Pisces rules both the immune and lymphatic systems, and you may pick up every illness going around. You might try to desensitise yourself with food and drink, especially when emotions and other people’s energy get too much to handle. You might also struggle to notice when you have eaten enough as your lack of boundaries can come into play with your digestive system. The Pisces Moon indicates a colder constitution; lacking vital heat, the circulation to your limbs, especially the feet, can lead to foot issues or a good shoe addiction.
- Water diet (see table)
- Grounding exercises and getting outdoors into nature
- Adequate hydration and sleep schedule
- Journaling rather than internalising emotions and creating physical ailments
- Resting when tired so your sensitive constitution does not become depleted
- Taking time for self rather than rescuing everyone else
- Fresh air and sunshine
- Water therapy, such as baths, swimming and going to the ocean or a lake
- Bach flowers: rock rose, walnut, gentian and clematis
- Herbal teas: echinacea, sage, yarrow and rosehip
Moon foods and diet
One of the easiest ways to support your Moon is to look to its elemental nature. These are not hard and fast rules and it is always best to listen to your intuition about food, including the signals your body sends you after eating certain foods. Try keeping a food, fluid, physical and emotional diary for a week. It gives you an enormous amount of information about why you eat, how your body reacts to food and what makes you feel energised or, conversely, which foods make you feel poor, bloated or cranky.
|Fire Moon (Aries, Leo, Sagittarius)||Earth Moon (Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn)||Air Moon (Gemini, Libra, Aquarius)||Water Moon (Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces)|
|Foods to nourish the brain and circulation||Foods for the liver, digestion and alkalising the body||Foods to nourish the nerves, such as fish, nuts and seeds, avocado and olive oil||Warm and well-cooked foods: soups and stews|
|Cooling foods, salads to bring down your “heat”||Fresh fruits and vegetables in a cooked form (soups, stews, stir-fry)||Whole grains and root vegetables for grounding, soups, stews and slow-cooker meals||Fresh fruits and vegetables, root vegetables and small amounts of dried fruits|
|Plenty of fluids, as you tend to dehydrate||Dairy products create cold and congestion||Small amount of animal food or fish for protein and grounding||Fermented foods and dairy can aggravate and cause congestion|
|Iron-rich foods: red meats, green leafy vegetables||Iodine- and calcium-rich foods: seaweed, seeds and nuts, dark-green vegies||Dairy can create too much mucus||Poor food choices when stressed or emotional|
|Walnuts, seeds and nuts, healthy oils: avocado, olive and coconut||Fibre from whole grains, fruits and vegetables||Fresh vegetables in salads and stir-fries||Watch alcohol intake and stimulants|
|Slowing down and chewing your food||Digestive bitters, apple cider vinegar and bitter greens to enhance digestion||Foods high in magnesium: dark leafy greens, seeds and nuts||Care with overeating and drinking|
|Herbal teas for circulation, stress, anxiety and exhaustion||Teas to support the liver and digestion as well as lift the spirit and mood||Teas to support the nervous system and calm the mind||Digestive, detoxification and immune-supportive teas|
|Green and peppermint teas for cooling and brain health||Warming fluids with ginger and spices||Hot water and ginger or lemon slices||Hot water with lemon slices|
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- TAOISMZhongli Quan.SHAMANISM
Please listen to the podcasts in the gallery under ABOUT page of this website.Want to journey but not sure where to start? An experienced journeyer but looking for sample journeys? An academic looking to know more about the journey state? This is the page for you!When people think about shamanism, it is often journey work that comes to mind. It is one of the most often used tools within shamanism, and a great place to start.The shamanic path is one you are thinking you’d like to pursue. One of the greatest things about journey work; and most shamanic tools, is that they can be used on their own, or in conjunction with other belief systems.
The reason journeys work so well is that they use the drum, which follows a fast (typically 120+ bpm) monotonous rhythm. This rhythm affects the theta waves within your brain and helps alter the perception of reality, thereby taking you into a trance.
Shamanic Journeying is a simple, ancient practice of meditation and finding answers. … It feels more powerful than just a normal meditation because it is a Journey – you feel yourself move into it, and back, and often get lessons or visions during it. It is a way you can connect with your highest self and your guides.
Shamanic healing techniques have been successfully used for thousands of years to help people miraculously let go of old trauma, emotional wounds, hurts, self-sabotaging patterns, energetic blocks, illnesses, diseases and more.
For thousands of years the most prodigious philosophers, sages, and theologians have attempted to define the soul. A copious number of treatises and books endeavor to nail down this concept. Several definitions for the soul are in existence today, so to provide a working definition in a healing and transformative context is difficult but necessary; I refer to the soul as life force. This is the life force that animates our physical life on Earth. Our soul is metaphorically in the body, in our guts.
It responds to life, to rhythm, to joy, to music. The purpose of the shamanic healing practice of soul retrieval is to gather as much of our life force as possible in order to live this life to the greatest degree that we can as human beings. In many respects, there is nothing “sacred” or extraordinary about this per se; it is a natural expression of life.
The Biogeometric Structure of the Soul
Circumventing the definition debate, my subjective perspective and vision of the soul, or life force, is of a biogeometric structure that contains our memories, our emotions, and our experiences from our very beginning in the physical world, the moment of our conception. I usually describe the soul using the metaphor of a three-dimensional tapestry with a geometric structure consisting of threads, fibers, and filaments. Each thread is a discrete element, a story or an experience that stretches back in time. In the process of shamanic soul retrieval, you are bringing all these threads of life force back into your being. In addition, these threads form part of a larger geometric structure that includes our parents and our personal ancestry, which also stretches back in time and is part of a larger, more encompassing structure, and so on. If you follow this to the ultimate conclusion, we are an integral part of an all-encompassing biogeometric structure, and I refer to this as planet Earth and, by extension, the universe.
When people say to me “I want to heal the Earth” or “The Earth needs healing,” I suggest to them that the key to this is in healing themselves. If we are an intrinsic part of the Earth, then personal healing and transformation are explicitly influencing the anima mundi, the soul of the world. This is nothing new or fanciful. The understanding that humanity is a strand in the “web of life” is part of an inspirational ecological philosophy of the Native Americans. As a pithy Lakota proverb puts it, “The frog does not drink up the pond in which he lives.”
Soul retrieval is one of the most effective and well-known shamanic healing practices to restore lost life force. The loss of life force is known as soul loss, and this can take place when we suffer a trauma, have an accident, separate from a partner, experience the death of a loved one, or go through a pervasive period of difficult circumstances.
When we undergo a severe trauma, typically a part of our life force goes away so that we can survive whatever is happening to us. It is a way for the body and consciousness to survive the trauma. Problems develop when the soul part or fragment does not return.
Soul Loss: How it Happens
Often soul loss happens when we are very young and are without a frame of reference for the experience, and we are therefore unaware of the dissonance within our being and the unconscious disruptive patterns that repeat in our lives because of that early soul loss. In some way we are endeavoring to reclaim our lost life force by repeating and re-experiencing the emotional wound over and over again. This can be very painful to live through, but we need to know that our consciousness, in a consummate self-revealing function, is showing us that we need to restore our life force and heal. This is where soul retrieval techniques and meditation can become valuable.
Shamanism does not dwell on past events; there is only a vast, awesome, ever-moving, great moment of now in which there is no separate past, present, or future. During a shamanic healing session, a practitioner can journey outside of linear time to go to the place where that traumatic event is still occurring for a person, locate that person’s life force, which is held in that energetic event, and restore it. When this has been carried out, the deep healing can truly begin.
The concept of soul loss and the ceremonial retrieval of souls are found in many cultures. For example, in the Tibetan Bon tradition, one of the most important practices performed by Tibetan shamans of the Sichen path is soul retrieval, of which there are two forms—lalu, meaning redeeming, or buying back the soul (the vital energy or core essence), and chilu, redeeming the life energy (the energy that maintains the functions of the mind and body). These soul retrieval techniques are separate rites in the Bon tradition and are widespread not only in the Bon tradition but in all Tibetan Buddhist schools.
A number of symptoms are associated with soul loss; for example, people feeling that they are observing life as an outsider, rather than engaging and being fully involved; feeling that they are “spaced out” a lot of the time, not really present in life; experiencing pervasive fear, or an inability to trust people. I have also found that severe depression can be a symptom of soul loss. Chronic illness may also be a symptom, and this directly relates to personal power or life force. In the shamanic worldview, power and health go hand in hand. If the body is “power-full,” there is no room for illness or disease, which are often regarded as invasive forces.
Laozi in the Tao Te Ching explains that the Tao is not a ‘name’ for a ‘thing’ but the underlying natural order of the Universe whose ultimate essence is difficult to circumscribe due to it being non conceptual yet evident’ in one’s being of aliveness. The Tao is “eternally nameless” (Tao Te Ching-32 )
The relationships between Taoism and Buddhism are complex, as they influenced each other in many ways while often competing for influence. Taoism in its early form was a mixture of early mythology, folk religion, and Taoist philosophy.
The Immortals are:
- TAOISMZhongli Quan.SHAMANISM
Tao (or Dao, 道) is the name of the force or the “Way” that Taoists believe makes everything in the world. … Instead of spending a lot of time trying to explain what the Tao is, Taoists focus on living a simple and balanced life in harmony with nature. This is one of the most important principles in Taoism.
Origin & Meaning
Taoism (Daoism) is a Chinese philosophy and religion, dating back to Lao Tzu (or Laozi). It emphasizes living in harmony with Nature, or Tao, and it’s main text is the Tao Te Ching, dating back to 6th century B.C. Later on some lineages of Taoism were also influenced by Buddhist meditation practices brought from India, especially on the 8th century C.E..
The chief characteristic of this type of meditation is the generation, transformation, and circulation of inner energy. The purpose is to quieten the body and mind, unify body and spirit, find inner peace, and harmonize with the Tao. Some styles of Taoist Meditation are specifically focused on improving health and giving longevity.
How to do it: There are several different types of Taoist meditation, and they are sometimes classified in three: “insight”, “concentrative”, and “visualization”. Here is a brief overview:
Emptiness meditation — to sit quietly and empty oneself of all mental images (thoughts, feelings, and so on), to “forget about everything”, in order to experience inner quiet and emptiness. In this state, vital force and “spirit” is collected and replenished. This is similar to the Confucius discipline of “heart-mind fasting”, and it is regarded as “the natural way”. One simply allows all thoughts and sensations arise and fall by themselves, without engaging with or “following” any of them. If this is found to be too hard and “uninteresting”, the student is instructed with other types of meditation, such as visualization and Qigong
Breathing meditation (Zhuanqi) — to focus on the breath, or “unite mind and qi”. The instruction is “focus your vital breath until it is supremely soft”. Sometimes this is done by simply quietly observing the breath (similar to Mindfulness Meditation in Buddhism); in other traditions it is by following certain patterns of exhalation and inhalation, so that one becomes directly aware of the “dynamisms of Heaven and Earth” through ascending and descending breath (a type of Qigong, similar to Pranayama in Yoga).
Neiguan (“inner observation; inner vision”) — visualizing inside one’s body and mind, including the organs, “inner deities”, qi (vital force) movements, and thought processes. It’s a process of acquainting oneself with the wisdom of nature in your body. There are particular instructions for following this practice, and a good book or a teacher is required.
These meditations are done seated cross-legged on the floor, with spine erect. The eyes are kept half-closed and fixed on the point of the nose.
Master Liu Sichuan emphasises that, although not easy, ideally one should practice by “joining the breath and the mind together”; for those that find this too hard, he would recommend focusing on the lower abdomen (dantian)
What is the best contemplation meditation technique?
There are 31 main meditation techniques in use today.
Each has its own strengths and weaknesses:
- Movement meditationshelp to liberate the mind.
- Breathing meditations are good for relaxation.
- Taoist meditations restore the flow of chi.
- Zen will quickly improve your focus.
As a meditation teacher who has spent well over 10,000 hours meditating, I’ve discovered some truly amazing things about my own mind and about life in general. For instance, I’ve learned that I have an exceptional powerful sense of empathy that I used to take for granted.
Finding your spiritual strengths like that can open up a new chapter in your life.
The moment I learned I had heightened levels of empathy I set about healing other people.
That’s just one of the ways that the insight gained from contemplative meditation has helped me.
But this article is not about me. It’s about you.
As a unique individual, you will have your own spiritual strengths, and a few spiritual weaknesses too. Once you find those strengths and weaknesses you will gain an all new, enlightened perspective of yourself and of the world around you.
There are 4 contemplative meditation practices that will unlock your insight and transform your perspective. Let’s take a look at each of them.
4 Contemplative Meditation Practices
Note that you’ll get way more out of this if you meditate in a place that has contemplative architecture.
1. Meditating on a spiritual text (like the Bible)
One of the oldest forms of meditation is meditating on a spiritual text. For instance, meditating on the bible.
Meditating on the bible, the teachings of Buddha, the writings of Lao Tzu, or on any other spiritual text, is a powerful way of gaining a fresh perspective of spiritual life.
Books like the Bible and the Gita are perfect for contemplative meditation.
Never meditated before? Then this meditation is perfect. It’s a very easy meditation for newcomers to try. And it is immensely enjoyable and rewarding.
Simply choose your favorite spiritual text and find a passage in it that truly resonates with you. Now sit somewhere peaceful and take five minutes to relax your mind (focusing on your breath helps).
Once you are focused and relaxed, read the spiritual text out loud and focus on the words. You can focus on the imagery of the words, the underlying meaning of the words, the sound of the words, or on the way the words make you feel.
When you do this, you may begin to think of the text in new ways. Let this happen. Let the text reveal its true meaning to you, similar to how magic eye images reveal their picture once you are looking at them the right way.
This is one of the best contemplative meditation practices. It will deliver valuable insight and transform your relationship with the text.
As an alternative to this, you might also like to try meditating on a sacred mantra.
2. Oneness with the divine
Most spiritualities that practice meditation have at least one technique used to connect with the divine.
- In Hinduism it is called Bhakti technique
- In Christianity, it is biblical meditation.
- In Buddhism is is the Dhyana method.
To be a spiritualist implies seeking the divine. And most spiritualists enjoy contemplating the divine.
A way to go further in this contemplation is to seek oneness with the divine. We do this by either focusing on a representation of divinity (a statue of a deity, a sacred passage, a religious image etc.) or by focusing on the way we think and feel about that divinity.
The former technique is easy. We simply focus the mind 100% on the representation of the divine.
The latter technique is slightly trickier. In this technique, we bring the deity to mind. We then observe how our mind conceives of that deity (whether it be by a mental image, a specific feeling or a mental sound). Finally, we focus the mind on this conception, such that we will be meditating on the way our mind conceives of divinity.
This is an immensely rewarding form of contemplative meditation. It brings us into contact with the sacred in a way many people have never experienced.
- Go further in your contemplative meditations by practicing Shambhavi mudra.
3. Meditating on an object
As well as using meditation to contemplate the nature of the mind and of spiritual texts, we can use it to contemplate physical objects.
There are very many physical objects to meditate on. They range from the elements to meditation crystals to aspects of nature.
No matter which objects we meditate on, we practice in the same way. We bring the object to mind (either by looking at the object or by visualising it) and we focus 100% on the object. When we do this, we do not judge the object or think about it in this way or that way. We simply allow the object to rest in the mind, focusing on it 100%.
This practice helps us to perceive the reality of physical objects. It can be a powerful source of insight.
4. Anapanasati meditation
Anapanasati meditation is a Buddhist technique that is used to calm the mind. Not only does it calm us, it also shows us the inner workings of the mind. This is a fantastic contemplative practice for learning about yourself.
The technique is broken into four stages. In the first stage we focus on the breath. This creates joy. We then focus on that sense of joy. Next comes the third stage. Here, we observe how the mind moves towards pleasant thoughts and feelings and away from negative thoughts and feelings. Finally, in stage four, we observe how all thoughts and feelings come and go.
This is a relatively simply technique, but surprisingly powerful. It begins by showing us the reality of the breath moving through the body and how the breath changes based on mood, thoughts, and feelings. After this we gain insight into the impermanence of the mind, and how the mind creates and erases thoughts and feelings.
Overall, Anapanasati is a potent way of accessing insight into the workings of the mind. Especially when it is followed by Vipassana.
These contemplative meditation techniques offer new sources of insight. They are immensely rewarding and can bring fresh perspectives about ourselves, the mind, the divine, and life in general.
Labyrinth as Prayer and Meditation
Meditation is defined by Laurence Freeman, O.S.B, as a universal spiritual wisdom entered into through silence, stillness and simplicity. A meditation or prayer labyrinth enhances that experience by utilizing one of several basic design structures.
The labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral, France, an 11-circuit design, is the most widely known to Catholics. The oldest (3,000 years or more), simplest, and most widely used labyrinth pattern in the world is the Cretan or 7-circuit labyrinth. With its 7 interconnecting paths, this pattern closely resembles the human brain and is commonly used for contemplative and healing purposes.
It is important to note that the labyrinth differs from a maze in that there is one path in and out with no dead ends. The structure is a tool to facilitate contemplation by directing the mind in a way that allows one to meditate, pray and connect with God, through the journey as well as at the center of our being. One can physically walk through the labyrinth, or simply traverse one’s finger along the winding paths of a wooden replica or an illustration of the labyrinth while focusing mind and spirit on the journey. This is particularly helpful to those who may have difficulty with achieving stillness while seated and prefer a moving meditation.
Biofeedback is a technique you can use to learn to control your body’s functions, such as your heart rate. With biofeedback, you’re connected to electrical sensors that help you receive information (feedback) about your body (bio).
This feedback helps you focus on making subtle changes in your body, such as relaxing certain muscles, to achieve the results you want, such as reducing pain. In essence, biofeedback gives you the power to use your thoughts to control your body, often to improve a health condition or physical performance.
Types of biofeedback
Your therapist might use several different biofeedback methods. Determining the method that’s right for you depends on your health problems and goals. Biofeedback methods include:
Brainwave. This type of method uses scalp sensors to monitor your brain waves using an electroencephalograph (EEG).
Breathing. During respiratory biofeedback, bands are placed around your abdomen and chest to monitor your breathing pattern and respiration rate.
Heart rate. This type of biofeedback uses finger or earlobe sensors with a device called a photoplethysmograph or sensors placed on your chest, lower torso or wrists using an electrocardiograph (ECG) to measure your heart rate and heart rate variability.
Muscle. This method of biofeedback involves placing sensors over your skeletal muscles with an electromyography (EMG) to monitor the electrical activity that causes muscle contraction.
Sweat glands. Sensors attached around your fingers or on your palm or wrist with an electrodermograph (EDG) measure the activity of your sweat glands and the amount of perspiration on your skin, alerting you to anxiety.
Temperature. Sensors attached to your fingers or feet measure your blood flow to your skin. Because your temperature often drops when you’re under stress, a low reading can prompt you to begin relaxation techniques.
You can receive biofeedback training in physical therapy clinics, medical centers and hospitals. A growing number of biofeedback devices and programs are also being marketed for home use, including:
Interactive computer or mobile device programs. Some types of biofeedback devices measure physiological changes in your body, such as your heart rate activity and skin changes, by using one or more sensors attached to your fingers or your ear. The sensors plug into your computer.
Using computer graphics and prompts, the devices then help you master stress by pacing your breathing, relaxing your muscles and thinking positive thoughts. Studies show that these types of devices might be effective in improving responses during moments of stress, and inducing feelings of calm and well-being.
Another type of biofeedback therapy involves wearing a headband that monitors your brain activity while you meditate. It uses sounds to let you know when your mind is calm and when it’s active to help you learn how to control your stress response. The information from each session can then be stored to your computer or mobile device.
Wearable devices. One type of wearable device involves wearing a sensor on your waist that monitors your breathing and tracks your breathing patterns using a downloadable app. The app can alert you if you’re experiencing prolonged tension, and it offers guided breathing activities to help restore your calm.
The Food and Drug Administration has approved a biofeedback device, Resperate, for reducing stress and lowering blood pressure. Resperate is a portable electronic device that promotes slow, deep breathing.
However, many biofeedback devices marketed for home use aren’t regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. Before trying biofeedback therapy at home, discuss the different types of devices with your doctor to find the best fit.
Be aware that some products might be falsely marketed as biofeedback devices, and that not all biofeedback practitioners are reputable. If a manufacturer or biofeedback practitioner claims that a biofeedback device can assess your organs for disease, find impurities in your blood, cure your condition or send signals into your body, check with your doctor before using it, as it might not be legitimate.
Why it’s done
Biofeedback, sometimes called biofeedback training, is used to help manage many physical and mental health issues, including:
- Anxiety or stress
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- Chemotherapy side effects
- Chronic pain
- Fecal incontinence
- High blood pressure
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Motion sickness
- Raynaud’s disease
- Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
- Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ)
- Urinary incontinence
- Biofeedback appeals to people for a variety of reasons:
- It’s noninvasive.
- It might reduce or eliminate the need for medications.
- It might be a treatment alternative for those who can’t tolerate medications
- It might be an option when medications haven’t worked well.
- It might be an alternative to medications for some conditions during pregnancy.
- It helps people take charge of their health.
THE SUFI MOVEMENT
Sufism is the esoteric path within Islam, where the goal is to purify oneself and achieve mystical union with the Supreme (named Allah in this tradition). The practitioners of Sufism are called Sufis, and they follow a variety of spiritual practices, many of which were influenced by the tradition of Yoga in India. In this post, I’ll explore the several types of Sufi meditation.
Unlike many of the other meditation techniques, Sufi meditation is spiritual by nature. There is no “secular version” of these techniques, as the idea of God is part of their DNA. The core of all their practices is to remember God, fill the heart with God, and unite oneself with Him. So if you are atheist or agnostic, you probably won’t find these meaningful.
The journey of the Sufi is the journey of the lover returning to the arms of the Beloved, a journey of love in which we “die” as egos so we can be one with Him. It’s the way of the heart. All of the practices are aimed at letting go of one’s ego, which is considered the biggest obstacle to realization.
The roots of Sufism date back to around 1400 years ago, but they became near-extinct in the 20th century. There are different orders of Sufis, each emphasizing different exercises. In this article, I have drawn techniques from different schools.
Sufism is not a monastic path. The Sufi wayfarer lives in the inner world of the heart as well as functioning responsibly in society.
- The Heart of Sufi Meditation: Contemplation of God
Love flourishes in the heart in which glows the Name of God. The love of God is the fragrance that even a thousand wrappings cannot hold. Or like a river that cannot be stopped in its course. My Friend is in me, in my Friend am I – there is no separation between us. — Sultan Bahu
The core of Sufi meditation is to be conscious of the Divine at all times, until there is no longer a sense of separation between meditation, God, and daily life. This is called oneness (ekatmata)—that is, the complete merging with the Beloved and cessation of duality.
In Arabic, the word for meditation is muraqabah (also murakebe), and the literal meaning is to watch over, to wait or to protect. The essence of Sufi meditation is two fold:
- keep your attention focused on God, and awaken love in your heart so that you can merge with the Beloved;
- constantly watch your mind so that no other thought except that of God enters the mind.
So there is watching over the mind, focusing the thoughts on God (remembrance of Him), and an awakening of love in the heart. This practice is done in as a formal meditation, and also should be followed during all moments of one’s day. Irrelevant thoughts are considered harmful, and one keeps a watch on the mind to make sure they don’t sprout.
“Make everything in you an ear, each atom of your being, and you will hear at every moment what the Source is whispering to you, just to you and for you, without any need for my words or anyone else’s.”— Rumi
The work of the lover is to be silent, waiting, always listening with the “inner ear of the heart” for his call. Thus, “catching the divine hint” is an important Sufi practice in which we learn to be continually attentive to our Beloved in order to serve Him.
Almost all other forms of Sufi meditation are extensions of these basic principles.
- Sufi Mantra Meditation
One of the most common ways to keep the remembrance of the Beloved, in Sufi orders, is by repeating His name. It’s a type of mantra meditation, and similar to what is called contemplative prayer in Christian mysticism. It establishes an inner connection with the divine, and results in bliss.
In Sufism, the name for mantra is Zikr (also Jikr or Dhikr), literally meaning remembrance. The essential aspect of this practice is the continual remembrance of God, typically by repeating one of these three words:
Allah ho (God is)
La illalahu (“God is God”)
Any other of the 99 names of God
The goal is to inscribe the name of the Divine in your heart. For that, Sufis employ the methods of meditating on His name with the tongue (mantra repetition), gazing at the written word Allah, and writing Allah repeatedly on a paper. Eventually, the name grabs hold of you and illumines all your being.
“First you do the zikr and then the zikr does you.”— Sufi saying
The emphasis is always to have the zikr going on all the time in your heart. But there is also time taken for the formal practice of sitting in silence and repeating the zikr. There is no particular posture for Sufi meditation.
Usually, this practice is synced with the breath. For instance, on the in-breath one says within one’s heart “Aal” and on the out-breath one says “Laah”. Or it is done while focusing on the solar plexus or on the spiritual heart, which takes us to the next practice.
- Heart Meditation
This practice, called Jikr-e-Sirr or Wakoof Kulbi (awareness of the heart), is a type of jikr (remembrance of God). It is one of the two central practices of the Naqshbandi Sufi.
For the Yogis, the spiritual heart (anahata chakra) is in the center of the chest, under the sternum bone. Some—like Ramana Maharshi and some Tantric texts—speak of the spiritual heart as being different from the heart chakra, and call it hridaya, saying it is on the right side of the chest. But according to the Sufis, the spiritual heart is at the same place where the physical heart is (on the left).
Here are the steps for this technique:
Start by collecting your dispersed energies, bringing them from the outside world back into yourself. Still the mind and the senses so that you can directly experience the inner reality of the heart.
Focus your attention intensely at the place where physical heart is located, until you forget all about yourself. This state of self-oblivion is considered the straight path to the Infinite.
The third step varies, according to the source and Sufi school. Here are some variations:
Try to listen to the heartbeat in the form of the name of the Almighty. With time, one starts listening to the sound of the heartbeat even during daily life.
Do the zikr (mantra repetition of Allah).
Keep thinking about God or one’s spiritual master.
In all of the three variations above, keep your attention focused on the heart center, and simultaneously cultivate feelings of love for the Beloved.
In some more esoteric traditions, it is said that the master transmits his power to the disciple (tavajjoh or tawajjaha), and that awakens his spiritual heart, which is then filled with love. Only after this happens is the practice is really effective.
This practice can be done seated or lying down, and the recommended length is at least half an hour.
Here is a more detailed description of the third variation, as found in the book The Experience of Meditation:
The first stage in this meditation is to evoke the feeling of love, which activates the heart chakra. This can be done in a number of ways, the simplest of which is to think of someone whom we love. This can be God, the great Beloved. But often at the beginning God is an idea rather than a living reality within the heart, and it is easier to think of a person whom we love, a lover, a friend.
Love has many different qualities. For some the feeling of love is a warmth, or a sweetness, a softness or tenderness, while for others it has a feeling of peace, tranquillity or silence. Love can also come as a pain, a heartache, a sense of loss. However, love comes to us we immerse ourself in this feeling; we place all of ourself in the love within the heart.
When we have evoked this feeling of love, thoughts will come, intrude into our mind—what we did the day before, what we have to do tomorrow. Memories float by, images appear before the mind’s eye. We have to imagine that we are getting hold of every thought, every image and feeling, and drowning it, merging it into the feeling of love.
Every feeling, especially the feeling of love, is much more dynamic than the thinking process, so if one does this practice well, with the utmost concentration, all thoughts will disappear. Nothing will remain. The mind will be empty.
Learn more about the Sufi heart meditation here.
- Sufi Breathing Meditation
Rumi, one of the most well-known Sufis, spoke highly of the practice of deep conscious breathing (Hosh dar Dam or Habje-daem). As with everything else in Sufism, the emphasis is about remembering God; so, in the Sufi breathing practices, one attempts to remain in God’s presence with every breath.
“This Order is built on breath. One, therefore, must safeguard his breath in the time of his inhalation and exhalation and in between.”— Shah Naqshband
There are two main breathing practices.
Here is the first technique (source):
- Close your eyes. Breathe normally a few times.
- Concentrate on the spiritual heart, while thinking about God. Feel his light in your heart.
- As you inhale, mentally repeat Allah, and feel that God’s lights are being sucked into your heart.
- As you exhale, mentally repeat Hu, and feel that the light of Hu is powerfully striking your heart.
- Gradually increase the breathing rate to three to four times your normal speed, while keeping the same visualization and mantra. Take shallow but rapid breaths. The inhalation should be longer than the exhalation. The exhalation is a bit short and forceful.
- Practice for ten minutes.
Sometimes this technique also involves long retention of breath, either after inhalation or exhalation.
Here are the instructions for the second technique (source), which includes five breathing cycles focusing on each of the five classical elements
First series—earth: Begin by breathing naturally in and out through your nostrils for five full breath cycles. This first series of five breaths is focused on purifying yourself with the element of earth. As you inhale, imagine that you draw the energy and magnetism of the earth up into you. It circulates through your subtle energy systems and replenishes and renews the vitality and strength of Your body. As you exhale, imagine that the magnetic field of the earth draws all the heavy, gross elements or energies within you down into the ground to be purified and released. With each breath, you will feel revitalized, lighter, less dense, and clearer to the free flow of breath, life, and energy.
Second series—water: Then with a second series of five breaths, imagine purifying yourself with the energy of water. Inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth, envision a waterfall of pure, clear energy pouring down into you from the heavens above, flowing through you, and dissolving, purifying anything within you that might block the flow of life-energy moving through you. With each breath, feel that you are washed clean and clear, as this stream of energy and light flows through you.
Third series—fire: With the next series of five breaths, purify yourself with the element of fire. Inhaling through your mouth and exhaling through your nostrils, let the breath flow focus at your solar plexus as you inhale, and then rise up and radiate as light from your heart-center, shining out between your shoulder blades, and like a fountain of light up through the crown of your head. Inhaling fire, exhaling light, envision and affirm that this circulation of energy is a purifying fire gathering any remaining impurities or congestion and burning them into radiance and light in the fires of your heart.
Fourth series—air: With the next cycle of breaths, imagine purifying yourself with the air element. Inhaling and exhaling through your mouth, imagine the air element sweeping through you like the wind blowing through the spaces of your whole body, purifying any sense of density or obstruction that may remain.
Fifth series—ether: Finally, breathing very gently through your nostrils, envision yourself being purified by the most subtle element – the “ether” element of the ancients, or the most subtle energies that infuse space, or the quantum field of infinite potentials. Let this most subtle breath dissolve any remaining sense of solidity or density and let your heart and mind open to be clear and vast like the infinite sky.
Closing: Energized and purified, sense the subtle, yet profound shift that has taken place in the course of only 25 breaths. Carry the sense of focus, calm, and deep connectedness from this practice into your next meditation or into your daily life.
The first technique is similar to the Kapalabhati Pranayama, one of the six purificatory practices of Hatha Yoga. The second is similar to the Tattwa Shuddhi practice of Tantra. There are also similar “element purification” practices in the Taoist and the Hermetic traditions.
- Bond of Love Meditation
In Sufism, the master-disciple relationship plays an essential role in the advancement of the aspirant. The master, called Pir (“guide”, “old one”), is highly regarded and loved reverently.In fact, in some Sufi practices the master is the object of meditation. The objective is to dissolve any sense of duality between the disciple and the master so that the aspirant can see with the eyes of the master, and possess his virtues, wisdom, and purity.To develop this bond of love between the disciple and his master is a cornerstone meditation technique in the Naqshbandi Sufi order. Here are four ways it is practiced (source)—through the heart, attention (contemplation), visualization, and gazing:
The seeker pictures in his heart, the face of his master and annihilates himself in it. As the lover sees the face of his beloved in his own face and loses himself in it, so does the seeker look upon his master. Through the bond they made, he takes on the very being of his master. The seeker’s soul is lighted up and shines with the light of his master. If the seeker perseveres in this way, in a short time he becomes a perfected man like his sheikh.
He fixes his attention lovingly upon the spirituality of his master. He ascribes so exalted a rank to him that he separates him from the rest of creation. At this moment, the spirituality of the master manifests interiorly within the seeker. It raises the seeker above the creation. Slowly, slowly the seeker begins to acquire the state of the sheikh.
The seeker represents, in his mind’s eye, the spirituality of his guide as a circle of light and pictures himself in the center of that circle. Such an ecstasy takes possession of him that he goes out of himself. At that moment, the spirituality of his sheikh is reflected in the light of the heart. From this reflection, a light appears in the heart of the seeker and draws him on towards perfection.
The seeker seats himself as though he were in the presence of his master. He brings an image of his master before his eyes. But here the seeker must know that the spirituality of the master never separates from his image and whenever and wherever he call son it that spiritual image will help him. If the seeker, coming into the presence of the master, annihilates his own self-hood and binds himself to that presence, the master can in a single instant raise him to the degree of Illumination.
- Gazing Meditation
Rumi spoke very highly of the practice of gazing at the beloved. In his case, he practiced it as sitting down across from his master, with both looking into each other’s eyes, holding each other’s gaze, and surrendering to the transformation that happens. The essential aspect of the practice is communion (sohbet)—to become one with the master and see with his light.
This is a type of “Bond of Love” meditation, as discussed in the previous section. For a detailed exploration of this practice, see the book The Spiritual Practices of Rumi.
Another Sufi gazing practice, little known and rarely discussed, is mirror gazing. The aspirant sits in front of a mirror in a room with dim light, and gazes at the spot in between his eyebrows.
And a third type of gazing, called sagale-naseer, involves concentrating the gaze on one’s nosetip.
All these three practices are sub-types of Trataka meditation.
- Sufi Walking Meditation
In Sufism there is a practice called Nazar bar Kadam (Watch Your Step), which is about walking mindfully and consciously. One should not do anything which may drag him down or which may obstruct his spiritual progress. It also means that one should avoid looking here and there aimlessly as this pollutes the mind. This is why Sufi saints ask their followers to look at their feet while walking.
This practice is basically the application of the principles discussed in the section on Contemplation of God (remembering God in the heart + watching one’s own mind) to walking.
Refer to my article on walking meditation to learn other types of practice.
- Sufi Whirling
Some Sufis consider that music and dancing act as a catalyst to produce in them a state of ecstasy. It is mostly practiced by the Dervishes of the Mevlevi Order, and it is called Samazen.
Like everything else in Sufism, it’s all about abandoning one’s ego, focusing on God, and merging with love. It’s the soul dancing out of love for God. It’s a training for awareness and for the heart.
This choreographed dance involves spinning one’s body in repetitive circles, which has been seen as a symbolic imitation of planets in the Solar System orbiting the sun.
While whirling, his arms are open: his right arm is directed to the sky, ready to receive God’s beneficence; his left hand, upon which his eyes are fastened, is turned toward the earth. Thesemazen conveys God’s spiritual gift to those who are witnessing the Sema. Revolving from right to left around the heart, the semazen embraces all humanity with love. The human being has been created with love in order to love. Mevlâna Jalâluddîn Rumi says, “All loves are a bridge to Divine love. Yet, those who have not had a taste of it do not know!” (Source)
Written by Giovanni Dienstmann