Nirodhaḥ Yoga Blog
To the mind that is still, the whole universe surrenders.
- Lao Tzu
The question "why meditate?" has been answered by many. From Scientific American (we have this issue available for you to read in our studio) to the National Center of Complementary and Integrative Health, scientific institutions are now recognizing the value of an established yoga and meditation practice.
Emerging research into a regular practice's benefits is now mainstream. Among the benefits suggested by this research are
On a personal level, "why meditate?" seems clearly answered to me as a decade-long, daily practitioner as well. Whereas at first, I dreaded sitting for meditation, I now crave it. It is the first thing I do in the morning and I rarely want to stop once I've started.
But how do you get to that point? Because I hear so many beginners telling me that meditation is not for them. That their mind is too busy or chaotic or uncontrollable for meditation to work. That they get bored
Deep rest can be elusive. As we move away from the busyness of the summer months, there is a natural transition into restfulness. All things in nature prepare for the hibernation of the long winter nights ahead.
But as plugged in as we are these days, getting good sleep can be difficult. Yoga Nidra, which means Yogic Sleep, is the practice of rest. It can teach our systems how to unwind from the day and prepare for sleep.
Yoga Nidra is an important tool we use at the end of every yoga class, but it can also be practiced on its own. Here, I offer you a half-hour of blissful guided relaxation to prepare you for better sleep.
I recommend that you use this recording at the end of every workday, as a way to transition to the restful time you dedicate to yourself at the end of the day. Sunset is a powerful time to practice yoga, according to Ayurveda (Yoga’s sister science), and can align your body and mind with the peaceful energy that night brings.
However, you can also use this recording just before bed, to prepare yourself for better sleep. In that case, rather than following the prompts at the end of the Yoga Nidra practice to gradually bring yourself to a seated position, stay lying down and just drift off into a blissful slumber.
Want to learn how to relax even more? Join us for yoga in the evenings - online or in person - and learn how regular practice can improve the quality of your sleep.
Pleasure is not the goal of man, but knowledge. Pleasure and happiness come to an end. It is a mistake to suppose that pleasure is the goal."
- Swami Vivekananda
Turning inward can be an uncomfortable experience. It's so easy to get lost in the outer world, whether that’s the myriad electronic distractions we have at our fingertips, desire for/protectiveness over material things, or even the thoughts and feelings of others.
The outward view affords us thoughts of pleasure (“I’d love to have..,” “when I get it, I will…,” “I can’t wait until…”) but orients us to moments that don’t exist yet. Our own present moment seems poorer in relief.
When the fixation on outer things is negative (“I wish I still…,” “I can’t believe they said…,” “why does this always happen to me?”), it is easier to transform the pain and fear into anger and/or sadness, directed at someone or something else. Or even worse, ourselves.
We limit ourselves this way. Rather than directing the full force of our discriminative faculties (Viveka in Sanskrit) onto the areas in which we have control - spoiler, the only domain we have control over is ourselves - we dilute it by judging and recriminating things wholly out of our power to influence.
To be clear, I am not suggesting that using our energy to enact some needed change is at all wrong. Yet I do believe that using the sacred, inner time we spend with ourselves to discuss or argue or beg about the outer world is counterproductive. It leads not to Viveka but to a dialectic.
We discuss the validity of one another’s opinions in a dialectic. That is not necessarily bad but it's not enough. We must also develop discernment about ourselves. We need to investigate our place within our shared reality and develop knowledge about the nature of Truth.
Sometimes, well-intentioned people have created a horrible mess out of a challenging predicament. They may earnestly try to solve the problem. But without humbling themselves to this process of inner discernment, they aren’t able to see that their ego - not the best interests of their community - is driving the movement forward. That’s where we all fall into trouble.
I had a realization a few years ago that hit me like a ton of bricks. Like many, I’ve struggled with feelings of insecurity and low self-esteem during my life.
Discussing how we identify ourselves with our egos in my first yoga teacher training, I realized that identifying with one’s ego isn’t only for narcissists and people with an overstimulated sense of self-worth. We also identify with our ego when we see ourselves as “less than” or unworthy.
Our ego is constantly telling us, “I am you. You are me. What I do, you do too. When I go, so do you.” But it’s a lie.
If we identify ourselves with our ego, when we do good things, we are good. When we do bad things, we are bad.
There is a chant in Sanskrit that says “Lead us from the unreal to the real. Lead us from the darkness to the light.” What is real? Only that which never changes. The rest is ephemeral.
The phenomena that we observe with our senses will all cease to exist one day. Truth always has and always will exist unchanged.
Our ego can get us into all sorts of issues and adventures. And it’s constantly changing its opinion of ourselves, others, and the world around us. Therefore, it is not the Truth.
But who even hears the ego chattering away like a fool? The inner witness. The inner witness, or light, never changes. It just neutrally observes as things change, without changing itself.
Think about a newborn baby. We love babies because they’re pure witnesses. They don’t worry about politics, or the economy, or even what so-and-so said on The Tonight Show.
They don’t identify with the moments past or to come. They don’t think, “boy, I cry a lot. I must be depressed.” Or “I eat so much, I’m going to get fat.”
They laugh when something’s funny. Cry when something’s uncomfortable. Sleep when they are tired. When the moment passes, they drop those emotions and become the pure witness again. They are like a clear crystal, refracting whatever light is passing through.
Of course as adults (or even possibly, parents of these little witnesses), we have to conduct ourselves in this outer world to thrive. That’s where the tricky part is. Applying Viveka among all the changing, outer world, non-truths around us. How can we learn to experience the joy of non-duality within our phenomenal dual world?
By turning to that inner light through meditation. When we get better acquainted with the witness in silence, it gets easier to discriminate between what is real and what isn’t.
Then, we won’t be as bothered by dualities (gain vs. loss, happy vs. sad, evil vs. saintly) because we know eventually they will all pass but the inner light remains.
I promise you, whatever demons you find when turning within are nowhere near as annoying as your ego on a bad day. Go deep.
In the spirit of Viveka, I offer you this mantra to lead you into meditation.
To go along with our spring cleaning theme, here is a breathing exercise and meditation to introduce clarity into a whirling mind. This guided audio includes the Nadi Suddhi breathing exercise, also called alternate nostril breathing. Nadi Suddhi is excellent for calming and balancing the nervous system. We use a gesture (or mudra) called Vishnu Mudra. You'll find a picture of this mudra below. Bend your index and middle finger into your palm, keeping your thumb, ring finger and pinky extended. If Vishnu Mudra doesn't work for you, just use your thumb and index finger instead. Let go of mental clutter and enjoy your enhanced clarity!
You might think mindfulness and meditation are only for adults, but kids and teens can also experience great benefits from these practices. All you need to teach these skills are an appropriate approach and a patient attitude. Parents should practice these exercises with their kids. This helps them see that even adults need to work on calming down, and reinforces that this is a life-long practice. Practicing together also builds a deep connection between you and your child.
Most of these exercises are done sitting and preferably with the eyes closed (except for the raisin and walking meditations). In each of these exercises, start by preparing your child to relax. Depending on your child's age and ability, a few gentle stretches can make the body feel more comfortable. Make sure where you are meditating is free from distractions and feels cozy. If it's appropriate, dim the lights. Ask your child to come into a comfortable position sitting, standing or lying down, depending on which meditation you are practicing. Almost all of these practices are appropriate for both kids and teens.
As with all mindfulness exercises, it is best not to practice with expectations for how (or how long) your child will meditate. Let them develop their practice gradually - start with a few seconds for young or restless kids, and encourage them by praising what they've accomplished. Eventually, they will come to enjoy the peaceful feeling and will meditate longer, naturally. At that point, you might encourage your child to describe how they feel after meditating.
If your child gets frustrated, let them know it is normal for thoughts to wander away from where we want them. You might even throw in a personal example. That's what meditation is all about. It's why we practice! To learn to bring our thoughts back under control.
Exercises adapted from Yoga for the Special Child and Yoga for Teens.
Five Keys Yoga is participating in #MindfulMarch again this year! We'll be offering donation-based classes, with proceeds going to the Love Your Brain Foundation. The LYB Foundation provides yoga and guided mindfulness meditation to survivors of Traumatic Brain Injury and their caregivers. Both of our #MindfulMarch classes will include yoga and a mindfulness meditation. Beginners are welcome!
#MindfulMarch classes at Five Keys Yoga
March 10th, 10-11am
March 28th, 5:30-6:30pm*
*Class on the 28th includes complementary chiropractic adjustment with Dr. Taylor Clifford
But you don't have to wait for March to get started on mindfulness. There are oodles of guided meditations on Youtube, the Headspace app, etc. (not to mention some on this very blog...) to give you a sense of the various ways of meditating. You might feel ready to start right now, but aren't sure what to expect or don't know how mindfulness is different than meditation. Never fear! Mindfulness is just a type of meditation. All you need is a relatively quiet space, where you can remain undisturbed for a few minutes. Once you're ready to give it a go, here are four tips.
This short meditation for kids is very relaxing. It's great to do before bed, before school, or anytime you just need a break! Find a comfy place, close your eyes, and get ready to relax...
Yoga for Kids starts October 4th. Register here.
Autumn is around the corner! Even if we're not in the "Back to School" crowd, the approach of Labor Day has us all wrapping up summer projects and launching into the fall. It's easy to lose step with practices that support our well-being. Whenever I feel overwhelmed by my responsibilities, I tend to have a harder time convincing myself to meditate. I find guided relaxations are a great way to jump-start my practice when I'm struggling to motivate myself.
I hope you enjoy this relaxation, called Yoga Nidra in the Integral Hatha Yoga lineage. You can practice it in a chair or lying down. We start with a progressive muscle relaxation. Then, observe our body, breath and mind in its natural, relaxed state.
Just some thoughts about yoga as I go...
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