Saturday, October 31, 2009

Simple Steps: #22 Sense Control

In observing how the eight limbs of yoga interact and build upon each other, pratyahara, or sense control, occurs almost automatically when we meditate because we become absorbed in the object of meditation.

Precisely because the mind is so focused, the senses follow; it is not happening the other way around.

Author Oriah Mountain Dreamer offers us the following opportunity in her book The Invitation:

"It doesn't interest me what you do for a living.

I want to know what you ache for,

and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart's longing.

It doesn't interest me who you know

or how you came to be here.

I want to know if you will stand in the center of the fire with me

and not shrink back.

It doesn't interest me where or what or with whom you have studied.

I want to know what sustains you, from the inside, when all else falls away.

I want to know if you can be alone with yourself...

and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments."

To me, this is the essence of pratyahara, the limb of yoga highlighting sense control.

Todays Simple Step

Notice your relationship to sound distractions.

Is there an area of your life where you need to close the door, lower the radio, turn off the TV?

Do you always need to be surrounded with chatter, people, events, happenings?

If so, can you agree, just for today, to enjoy the sounds of silence?

This is today's simple step.

Till next time...


Monday, October 26, 2009

Simple Steps: #21 Sense Attachment

Pratyahara is the next limb of yoga that we will address. Like taming a wild horse, pratyahara is the process that invites us to relinquish our untamed attachment to sense objects and mine the gold of the soul.

Control of the senses means that our senses stop living off things that stimulate and no longer depend on these stimulants as distractions on the road to self-realization and the achievement of peace.

Attachment to the senses means that under normal circumstances the senses become our masters rather than being our servants.

The senses - once attached to the objects of our desire - entice us to develop cravings for all sorts of things.

In pratyahara the opposite occurs: when we have to eat, we eat, not because we have a craving for food but because we have an appreciation of nourishment.

Todays Simple Step

Today ask for honesty from yourself so that you might gain your freedom from your own creations.

What are your particular stimulants?

List them.

What are you attached to seeing - hearing - tasting - touching - breathing that now owns you rather than you freely engaging with it?

Today is your day for accessing what internal house cleaning must be done for you to truly obtain your freedom.

Can you let go just for today?

Choose at least one thing and commit to cutting the cord of attachment.

This is your simple step.

Till next time...

Photo credit: Steamboat Horse by Bob Alba

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Simple Steps; #20 Alternate Nostril Breath

Pranayama invites balance.

Our right nostril is energetically associated with our body's heating energy, symbolized by the "Sun" and the syllable HA.

Our left nostril with our body's cooling energy, symbolized by the "Moon" and the syllable THA.

For the average person these energies are typically in conflict, which leads to disquiet and disease. The goal of traditional Hatha Yoga is to integrate and harmonize HA and THA for happiness and health.

The purpose of alternate-nostril breath is to create balance by "warming" a "cool" body-mind and vice versa.

Todays Simple Step

Sit upright in a comfortable position and slow your thoughts and your breath pattern. Relax...

Using the middle finger and thumb of your preferred hand, block your left nostril lightly and inhale through your right.

Pause gently...

Close the right nostril and exhale through the left.

Pause gently...

Reverse the instructions and inhale through your left nostril...pause... exhale through your right...pause.

Continue for 1 to 5 minutes.

Affirm your ability to balance yourself, living healthy and well.

This is your simple step.

Till next time...

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Simple Steps: #19 Breath of Fire!

The limb of yoga called Pranayama is the measuring, control and directing of the breath, and breath of fire is one of the most powerful techniques in the arsenal of purification.

Since the practice produces the actual physical sensation of heat (called tapas or the inner fire of purification,) as the yogi follows the proper rhythmic patterns of breathing he/she will strengthen the respiratory system, soothe the nervous system, and reduce cravings.

The mind is then set free to become a proper vehicle for concentration and meditation.

Check out the benefits of this breath skill that includes:

  • Cleanses the sinuses and lungs
  • Keeps the lungs supple
  • Strengthens the diaphragm
  • Develops belly muscles
  • Stimulates the brain! (We could all use that)

I have adapted the general technique as follows, but if you feel unfamiliar with it you can refer to Yoga Journal for more information.

Kapalabhati, or fire breathing consists of alternating short, explosive exhales and slightly longer, passive inhales. Exhales are generated by powerful contractions of the lower belly (between the pubis and navel), which push air out of the lungs. Inhales are responses to the release of this contraction, which sucks air back into the lungs.

Fire breath is done through the NOSE!

Focus on your lower belly. Many beginners aren't able to isolate and contract this area. If needed, cup one hand lightly in the other and press them gently against your lower belly.

Now quickly contract your lower belly, pushing a burst of air out of your lungs. Then quickly release the contraction, so the belly "rebounds" to suck air into your lungs. Pace yourself slowly at first. Repeat eight to 10 times at about one exhale-inhale cycle every second or two.

As you become more adept at contracting/releasing your lower belly, you can increase your pace to about two exhale-inhale cycles every second. Imagine the exhale sweeping out or "brightening" the inner lining of your skull.

Do 25 to 30 cycles at first. Gradually increase the number of cycles you do each practice to 100 or more. Stop if you feel dizzy.

Todays Simple Step

Like me, I hope you fall in love with this breath!

I have found it to be strengthening, centering and powerful.

Practice, practice, practice...

and ask yourself...

What do you do with your fire?

How do you need to manage it?

What gets - and keeps - you inspired?

What energizes you - and does it have genuine health benefits??

Just for today, see if you can call on breath of fire to energize your day - and substitute one minute of breath of fire for your "less than optimal" habits and routines.

This is today's simple step.

Till next time...


Photo credit: GCA "Touching the Sun" by Bob Alba

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Simple Steps: #18 Deep Belly Breath

When you think of your "center" where do your thoughts go?

For the martial artist, the center of the body is called tan tien, for the bodyworker it is hara, for the breath practitioner, it is the lower belly. All roads lead to Rome...

The simple step of belly breathing truly is simple - yet it has the possibility to change your life.

Feelings can get trapped inside of us when they don't have a vehicle for movement. We hold on tight...we hold our breath. This habit can last a lifetime, and affect every moment of our relating as we become more and more constrained.

As the practice of pranayama brings mind-body-spirit into deep communion, a deep belly breath practice brings a freedom to held emotions that is healing on all levels of your interactions.

Todays Simple Step

Take a few minutes to relax and quiet down.

Close your eyes and place your hands on your lower belly.

Breathe in and allow your belly to expand so that you can feel it with your hands....belly first and then lungs. Imagine a balloon filling with your belly becoming round and full as you slowly inhale.

Pause - then as you slowly exhale, let your belly flatten.

Once you get the feel for the movement, allow your waist, back and chest to expand with each breath, always allowing the belly to fill first.

Today allow this practice into as many practical areas of your life as you possibly can.

Belly breathe at every stoplight, during every TV commercial, between every call, after every email.

Wherever and whenever you can, incorporate this practice and watch the results. Don't be surprised if long held feelings move through you. The breath, like a breeze, can carry them away.

Till next time...