29 July 2016

breathing to reduce stress vs breathing for kundalini

The 2 are quite different. Today we will look at breathing for kundalini.

For kundalini, chakras, tattwas (elements), koshas (body sheaths), pranas, what is most helpful is to do pranayama which creates an energy. For it is energy, along with consistency, that gets things moving. So, in this instance, we are focusing on moving our bodies via dynamic asana (postures), stimulating & moving our prana (life-force), especially the seat of prana, which is around the navel region. We are creating an internal heat which also aids the revealing of the inner realms. Everything is about movement, & even when we move into a more peaceful pranayama to conclude our deep breathing session, we are restoring a balance, between both brain hemispheres, we are creating a mental & emotional equilibrium, we are allowing the pranas & nadis (subtle energy flows) to calm into an auspicious state, for meditation. In meditation, for all of the spiritual aspects mentioned, it is still about energy, movement. An energy moving technique that keeps the internal aspects flowing, aids in allowing the countless accumulated mental & emotional impressions, to flow, in meditation. Before we have finished, the movement of energy, then balance, followed by meditation, leaves our entire complex in a sublime state. If you are not calm after all this......your practices need refining or changing. I have seen, over the decades, so many aspirants lose heart with their practices, as there is too much revving up without this calming, restoring ending to one's practices. And constant revving up without calming after, creates an agitated mind.

Always finish your asanas with 1 or more calming, relaxing, internalising poses. Reclining butterfly; reclining spinal twist...both are excellent, especially if held for a minimum of 5 long, relaxed breaths, each. I personally end with this, nearly every morning. Seated cross-legged twists, followed by forward bend, still cross-legged, are a good alternative.

Then start pranayama. Bhastrika, emphasing a forward/inhale & backward/exhale, pumping action, at the navel region, is the number 1 pranayama for energy. Do about 1 - 2 bhastrikas per second. Work up to 120 bhastrikas each day, in 1 sitting. When you can do this, add a chin lock & root lock, on the inhale, at the end. You can do bhastrikas differently than this, however for energy: it's all about pumping that navel, creating energy, heat.

If you have high blood pressure, heart problems, anger issues, then bhastrika, big breath retentions, & locks, are an absolute NO!

Another caution: bhastrika done this way stokes the internal fire, so it is very powerful. I personally have had long periods of doing much more bhastrika at 1 sitting, but....& this is important....this requires guidance, & the correct situation to be able to do this.

To finish with bhastrika without calming our system after, is counterproductive. Everything in life is a balance, & even in spiritual technique, this balance is essential for our whole being.

Follow with nadi shodana, for balance & calming: in/left nostril; out/right nostril; in/right; out/left; to equal 1 round. Start with relaxed uniform breathing (inhale & exhale being roughly equal), & work up to 5 rounds. When you can do this, add the exhales being 2x as long as the inhale. Then you can add ratios. An achievable ratio to start with is in 3; out 6. Then it's in/3; hold in/6/internal retention; out/6. When this is achievable, add external retention: in/3; hold in/6; out/6; hold out/3/external retention. The next level is 4:8:8:4. Then 5:10:10:5. For longer retentions, we are looking at adding locks/bandhas.

Meditation comes next, however today it's more about the pranayama for energy, so I shall end here. When we look at pranayama for stress reduction, you will see that the 2 approaches & techniques are quite different.

18 July 2016

breathing & other practices for sleep

if you would like to do something to open up your lungs to enable deeper breathing whilst asleep, an easy backbend like bridge pose, holding for 3 - 5 breaths, you could inhale into the centre of the chest at the heart centre, & exhale out of it...or go up & down into the pose, slowly, about 3x, & whatever version that you choose: this would open up the lungs. Then follow with reclining butterfly, soles of feet together, knees opened wide, lying on the back: observe the rise & fall of the navel with the breath, completely relax (go limp) the body with each exhale. If you would like to amplify the effects, have the exhale about 2x as long as the inhale, in these poses.

Another good combination is either cobra, up & down into the pose 3x, &/or hold the pose 3-5 breaths, then push back into child, for 3-5 breaths, relax with each exhale. Either of these 2 options are quite do-able for most people.

If you would like to sit & do some pranayama, breathing practices, then follow with Nadi Shodana: in left nostril, out right, in right, out left, being 1 round. Do 3-5 rounds. pause after inhale, completely relax on the exhale. Then another brief pause. If you can work up to exhales being 2x as long as the inhales, that would be beneficial.

Either follow with Bramari, or just choose Bramari or Nadi Shodana. In Bramari, one closes off the ear opening by pushing the bit of flesh that is in front of them, against the openings with the thumbs, as you exhale humming. Listen to the hums. Have your eyes closed Do 6 - 9. Extremely soothing to the body/mind/emotions/prana complex. Take your time, do everything slowly, letting your psyche know that it's rest & sleep time. Have the eyes closed for pranayama, & in the following techniques.

In bed, lie on your back if possible. Observe the gentle rise & fall of the navel with the breath. Inhaling, the navel rises, then a minuscule pause; exhale gently pull the navel towards the spine, gentle pause after. Release the abdomen to inhale, aim for longer exhales, then move into rise & fall of the navel with the breath, no effort required.

An alternative: observe the breath where it enters & leaves the nostrils. Personally, I think that if you are having trouble winding down & sleeping, it's best to get the focus away from the head! Another you could use is to have the sensation of your subtle body (not the physical body), expand with the inhale, return to it's physical shape as you relax with the exhale. Whatever technique that you use in bed - & you might prefer to skip the poses &/or pranayama - do it in a relaxed manner. The, as you start to feel sleepy, roll over onto your right side. The breath will predominate in the left nostril as you fall asleep, &, correspondingly, everything will relax as messages go from your brain to your system, telling you that it's rest time. When the right nostril predominates, as when you lie on your left side, the body/brain gets ready for action, so this is why we want the flow of breath to be in the left nostril as we go to sleep.

15 July 2016

why does the breathing aspect matter in meditation?

Our brains need glucose for fuel, glucose is virtually it's sole fuel (just as a car needs fuel to be able to move). Glucose is also involved with our blood sugar, & it uses about 25% of our glucose supply. So where do we get glucose from & where does the breathing aspect come into it all? Glucose comes from food, mainly plant & plant based foods, known as carbohydrates. Processed carbohydrates such as sugar, most (but not all) white rices, white flour, "instant" grains....they have a detrimental effect on glucose regulation & can cause us to crave even more of these foods & the sugar levels in our blood drop, as the sugar content in those foods is so high. And some of us need more protein in our diet to regulate our glucose levels.

It has been found, in recent years, that "mindfulness", especially everyday mindfulness, is very powerful in regulating our blood sugar, therefore also our food cravings. And correspondingly, stable glucose levels make us nicer people.

But for many, everyday mindfulness is overwhelming. I do feel that they have learnt off a silly person who has told them to be mindful of everything. For example, walking & being aware of everything simultaneously: a tree, the sky, the footpath, a breeze, our breathing, our thoughts, sounds. This is just crazy. I get so cross when I meet someone who is having problems from learning mindfulness this way. And I know that meditation done with this sort of "mind-being-too-full-ness", is not pleasant.

Far easier is to learn how to consciously, & very relaxed, slow down the breath. Doing the technique in my previous post will teach you this, & I recommend that you do it, here & there, to start with, then try to do it as soon as you wake up, & just before you go to sleep. Just a bit here & there. Soon, you will be able to sit for a few minutes doing that, so relaxed. And if you close your eyes, you will be meditating.

If we are too anxious, meditation is very difficult to do, if we have not been taught how to slow down our mental, emotional, prana, aspects. And if we strain doing harsh ujjayi (slightly constricting in the throat to make a soft noise), or a fast ujjayi, it does seem, to me, to create tiredness later. This will be because it has had a detrimental effect on our brain glucose levels. Which is counter-productive. I initially learnt how to slow down the breath, then later I learnt how to "power up" the breath. And do incredible amounts of strong pranayama. Whilst the spiritual results were incredible, I feel that this is counterproductive in daily life, as it did mess with my blood sugar levels. And I am sure it's because I was not relaxed.

To do deep meditation does require fuel, therefore it does require glucose. Not only that, but also not squandering glucose. Without this knowledge, it is not unusual for people who practice a lot of deep meditation, to crave sweets. I was taught that this was due to swadhisthana chakra, but truly this was not my actual experience of swadhisthana. It was just the opposite.

If you do have inflammation, or iffy blood sugar (which will cause inflammation), tiredness (which often starts in the brain), anxiety, doing the breathing technique that I wrote about in my last blog, will dramatically help.

There are other ways, which amplify brain function in meditation, which we will look into. For the brain is actively involved with meditation, even though meditation is about aspects of our mind.

8 July 2016

when meditation doesn't work

At it's most basic level, meditation is supposed to reduce stress, to calm us, make us happy. Sometimes this doesn't happen. Why?

Sometimes it's the wrong technique for us. Although my path has been yoga, I had a friend who was always a bit disturbed after doing meditation. It was an energy pathway one, combined with chanting Om out loud. Preceded by bhastrika (a very fiery breath), bandhas (energy locks) & nadi shodan (alternate nostril breathing). He went on a 10 day Vipassana retreat, loved it....& calmed down. I hoped he would continue with the buddhist technique as he seemed so at peace whilst doing it.

And I have noticed, & experienced, that very strong energy meditations can be hard to maintain, especially if one has not been taught how to calm down first. You would think that nadi shodan would do it, but if you were doing it with big breath retentions, long counts & even bandhas.....perhaps not.

What is missing is learning how to calm the breath, thereby calming the body, mind, emotions, prana (life-force), & most importantly, calming the awareness so that we are seated in a Higher Consciousness. Or, if we are not quite at that yet, then so that our conscious everyday awareness has calmed down.

Ujjayi on it's own will not do this. We need to slow down the breathing, whether ujjayi is used or not. We need to stop "powering up" the energy, because, ironically, this just makes us agitated & creates internal energy blockages. And we need to slip into the internal realms quickly. There are pratyahara (sensory withdrawal) practices but I find they make me restless. One is being like a tree.....really? I find that silly.

If postures have been done prior to meditation, using slow, relaxed breathing will take us automatically into meditation. We will not be able to resist. So, if you are teaching, or doing a practice on your own, you can most definitely do strong &/or dynamic poses...but...& this is important, there should be a slowing down as you go into seated forward bends & twists, & inversions. They don't have to be hard poses, but even if they are just reclining stretches, that will do the trick. relaxing, calming & cooling poses. All three combined.

Throughout the class..or even just at the slowing down period at the end, breathe this way: as you exhale, gently pull the navel back towards the spine. Pause briefly, for a fraction of a second. Relax the abdomen as you slowly inhale, then another brief pause. Keep going like this. ......instant calm, instant happiness. It will lead you right into the inner realms. You can continue breathing like this as you meditate, but you most likely will automatically do similar breathing without having to deliberately breathe like this. Meditation will become much easier.


1 July 2016

meditation

I have practised & taught meditation for 40 years. I was talking recently with a friend who has done the same, but with different yoga systems (from the ones that I had been involved with), for maybe 35 years, & I was asking her how her classes are coming along. She replied that there are some people who turn up with very definite ideas of what meditation is, & how to do it. "I was like that, once", I replied.

Meditation is called dhyana in sanskrit, sanskrit being the language of yoga. It is the 7th step of ashtanga yoga, the yoga of 8 limbs. The limbs being steps, starting with yamas which are like speciifically recommended vows that we make to ourselves to be a worthy person, & this is for our inner being. For the outer being, & of course they also greatly affect the inner being, we have suggested niyamas, which are beneficial rules of conduct. Yamas & niyamas together, are considered to be the first stage of the ashtanga yoga system of a great sage Patanjali. It is this ashtanga yoga that I am referring to here. Patanjali revealed, in a series of sutras, exactly what happens in the inner spiritual journey, & the steps that systematically unfold.

Next limb is asana, postures, which in this system also means being able to sit in a steady pose for meditation. Followed by pranayama, specific yoga breathing practices which not only provide the fuel for our spiritual journey, but also "set the stage" for the spontaneous happening of the next step: pratyahara, sensory withdrawal, a state of being whereby we are simply completely in the inner realms, & we are not affected by any of our senses, it is as though they have stopped, suspended in time, & this also includes body awareness. Dharana, concentration, follows, & in the yoga systems, many different concentration techniques are taught to actually bring about the state of dharana. Preceding that are also techniques to create the state of pratyahara.

Meditation, dhyana, is a state of being, & is the next stage on from dharana. It is a natural flow-on. The more we consistently have a dharana practice, the more we naturally move into the inner state of meditation, &, as time goes on, the more we are living in this same meditative state in our lives. It is a profound state.

Some of us have learnt specific meditations, usually from a guru based yoga system. This can tend to create the situation whereby we believe that the system that we have learnt, is the only way. It is not. There are many ways, many yoga paths, many meditation techniques to get us there. Not all are yoga. Meditation does not belong to yoga. Some meditation techniques are incredibly simple. The thing is, simple is often the easiest, & therefore the option that we are most likely to keep doing.

What I did find on my meditation journey, is that it is very easy to spontaneously slip  into meditation in your yoga practice, & in time, just by being present in the moment. My very 1st yoga teacher had us all practising meditation in our 1st class. He didn't say what it was, he just gently led us into it. My next yoga teacher taught me mantra - specific sounds, yantra - geometric symbols, mandalas- circular meditative designs, & tratak - candle gazing. I was so glad that I had this background before I became involved with a guru-based yoga system, because I already knew that there were many ways to meditate. In fact, when I finally relinquished my personal guru-meditation, & all the dogma around it, I can truthfully say that my spiritual life soared.