Definitions

Words like “Om” have become a part of our language. We use them so often that it is easy to lose touch with the true meaning and essence. Periodically I revisit the definitions to enhance and enliven my practice, my understanding. The following definitions came to me through the teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda.

Aum or Om: The basis of all sound; universal symbol-word for God. The all-pervading sound emanating from Cosmic Vibration-the voice of all creation, or of God.

Christ Consciousness: Consciousness of Spirit as immanent in every unit of vibratory creation.

Cosmic Consciousness: Consciousness of Spirit transcending finite creation.

Satsanga: Fellowship with man by appreciation; fellowship with God by meditation.

Turning in Circles

When was the last time you turned in circles and then stopped to breathe until the world stopped spinning? A few days ago, I was at my son’s sitting outside with our in-laws who are visiting from New York State. Hannah, my granddaughter, just turned two and she was playing around us. Then she came over to the three of us sitting together, her grandparents, and said:

Gama (that’s me) stand up. Memee, stand up. Poppy stand up. Now, turn.

With that, she put her arms out and began to turn in circles and, of course, we did the same. We all laughed and turned and the world was filled with love and joy. Throughout the afternoon, Hannah would stop what she was doing and come over and  repeat her instructions to us. Each time we followed her lead. So much fun!

This morning during my yoga/meditation practice I remembered that spinning is one of the Rites of Rejuvenation practiced by Buddhist monks. Five of these were brought out of Tibet as a gift to the world. These are known as The Five Tibetans and the first one we do in this practice is spinning. Google The Five Tibetans if you are interested in specifics.

Our Hannah loves to spin. I decided it is time to teach her to recognize when to stop so she doesn’t fall and hurt herself. So, the last time she was “turning” as she calls it, I coached her to sit when she gets “that” feeling. Her Mommy has taught her to breathe slowly when she gets confused or upset so I reminded her of that slow, deep breath. There is a reason this 2 year old already intuitively knows the benefits of spinning consciously and now she will know how to do it safely and wisely. So much more fun than telling her to stop!

Care to take a spin? Stand up. Put your arms out and feel your breath. Level your chin and lower your eyes as you imagine a big circle on the earth around you. Gaze softly at that circle as you turn and keep your head centered. Start with 7 turns at a comfortable speed. Stop and place your hands on your hips, eyes still on the circle, breathe.

For those of you whose ears get congested or who have vertigo when flying, etc., you can still do this but very carefully. I would suggest being just close enough to a counter or chair that you can easily put a hand out if needed. Also, begin with just 2 or 3 turns and go very very slowly, keeping your head and eyes steady – no “ballet turns” please! – with your gaze on the floor/earth out in front of you.

If you are not too dizzy and you recover quickly, you can try going faster. Then you can build the number of times you go around. In The Five Tibetans, the maximum number recommended is 21 but you gain benefit at whatever number up to that you can comfortably do.

Namaste.

Feeling Anxious?

Life can be a challenge and our bodies often respond with that sensation we call “anxiety.” The breath shortens because the torso muscles are drawing in toward center. The belly is tighter for the same reason. There is a sensation in the abdomen similar to excitement but we aren’t the least bit excited about what is happening. These physical responses are due to an increase of adrenaline in the body.

There are simple, nurturing yoga techniques that reduce these physical sensations quickly. Using them calms the mind, emotions, and body and can allow us to think more clearly so that we deal with what is at hand more effectively. Here are a few simple things anyone can do.

1. Slow breathing with movement:     Sit in a desk or dining room chair with your feet and knees hip width apart. Let your arms and hands rest comfortably on your legs, with your hands palms up. Inhale slowly to the count of 4 while opening your hands to a gentle, wide stretch. Pause briefly then exhale slowly to a count of 4 while folding your hands into your palms, thumbs inside the fingers. Pause briefly and repeat up to 10 times.

2. Thump your Thymus:     Sit in the chair in the same position. Form a soft fist with your right hand and bring your fist to the breast bone – that flat bone in the middle of your upper chest. Use the flat of your fingers (not the knuckles) and rapidly thump that bone while you count to 10 about 3 times. You can vocalize the sound “ah” if you like to be sure you are creating a soft vibration. The thump is firm yet gentle. This creates a vibration that flows into the thymus gland, which is directly behind that bone. When we are under stress, the thymus secretes hormones to keep us in balance. It can become fatigued and this practice increases the flow of blood to the gland and restores its ability to help us.

3.  Legs up the wall (without a wall):     Recline in front of the chair with your heels resting on the seat of the chair. Add a pillow for comfort. If possible place a folded blanket under your hips to raise the hips above the back of your heart. Turn palms up with your arms slightly away from your body. Close your eyes and breathe slowly and softly for 5 – 10 minutes. Setting a timer allows you to relax more deeply rather than having to watch a clock. When complete, slowly bring your legs down and turn onto your right side for 3 breaths. This calms the adrenal glands and brings more blood to the thymus glad and, of course, the brain.

You can do all 3 of these together for a restful, restorative yoga practice in under 15 minutes! Please give yourself this blessing and you do not have to wait for anxiety to hit! Doing this throughout your week can diminish the response before it becomes full blown!

Namaste.

Afraid of Being Afraid

The divorce became final just six weeks short of my 25th wedding anniversary.  The actual process began with separation about five months before. The journey was intense and filled with disappointment, grief, and fear. I was disappointed in life and in our mutual inability to figure out how to move forward together. I grieved for my children who, as young adults, were losing their family and all the traditions we had built throughout their lives. I grieved for the dreams of what our senior years would have held for us. I feared my own future and my ability to build a life for myself, by myself.

My first response to that fear was to jump into another relationship. It felt so good to be wanted at that point that I was not able to step back and evaluate the experience for what it was. As a result, I took that which was meant to be transitionary and tried to force it into something permanent. Almost four years later, I extricated myself from that relationship and followed my heart and my dreams as I returned to Nevada, to tall mountains and wide open spaces, to family and new opportunities. Most of all, I went to be with my father following my mother’s death. My heart longed to be with him in his initial years of grief and I had no desire to make that journey alone either. We were good for each other and our own relationship was nurtured and deepened in the process.

In the course of those years between the divorce and my return to my beloved West, I was confronted by fear time and again. I was practicing yoga and meditation daily and spent hours walking the countryside with my sweet Springer Spaniel, Basquo. During one meditation I had a vision of a dark figure wearing a cowl with the hood falling forward over its face. Fear came up and I whispered “Who are you?” The figure slowly removed the hood and I saw an ancient face, deeply lined with eyes that lovingly sought my very Soul. Tears welled in my eyes as I felt a depth of love and compassion that flooded every level of my awareness and being. The figure spoke:

I Am Fear and I come as a Master Teacher. My child, you cannot release fear until you release your fear of being afraid. Yes, the energy of fear is intense but it can save your life, elicit courage, and clear your mind. Always when fear begins to rise, resist it not. Rather, stop, soften your body and breathe deeply and slowly. Remember me and say this:  Welcome Master Teacher Fear. What have you come to show me today? Then return to your quiet breath and let the answer come to your heart, to your True Self.

I began this practice that very moment and it is a part of me now. Master Fear has shown me many times that there is no need to be afraid of being afraid. When fear arises, my awareness heightens and I am open to my Truth in that moment. Now fear turns me within to True Self, to the Source of All That I Am. As I am shown what is needed, my body calms down and peace returns.

The core of what I have learned from this practice is that fear arises when I am interpreting an experience apart from True Self. If I am conscious in the moment, abiding in the innate Oneness that I Am, the only fear that arises is that which tells me to take some kind of action to protect myself from physical or emotional harm, e.g. driving defensively when a nearby car skids out of control. The fear that comes up causes the adrenaline/cortisol rush that I need to have rapid reflexes and an astoundingly clear mind. Thank you my friend fear!! In other situations, True Self leads me into the Wisdom Mind for guidance in gathering information, making wise choices, and living from a place of love and compassion.

The process has taken years and it is worth every moment and every ounce of practice that I expended because it has brought me to where I live today. May your journey be clearer and unfold more quickly than mine did. May your heart and mind be open to the Master Teacher we call Fear. May your journey lead you deeply into the peace of your Soul.

Namaste.

What Do You Believe?

What you believe, on a fundamental level, about the nature of life matters. It affects everything you think, feel, and do. Each of us is born into a belief system of some kind and most of us embrace what we are born into without question until we begin to question it…or not. Some people never question what they have been taught by others. Some people begin questioning at a very young age. Others begin to question as they come into adolescence or young adulthood. Some wait until their midlife years.

Which is the best path? Whichever one you are on, dear heart, is the best path for you in this moment.

When I attended yoga teacher training, I was led to the teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda. He remains one of the sweetest influences in my journey to True Self, peace, and joy. Somewhere along the way, I read a story of him responding to one of his followers who was concerned about family members. She was so worried for their well-being and they didn’t listen when she tried to share all that she was learning about true spirituality, enlightenment. Yoganandaji was extremely loving with her as he explained that there was no need to worry. After all, we have more than one lifetime in which to “get it,” as I would say. As I remember from that story, he said that it takes many lifetimes to stop and think about people saying there is a God of some sort. Many more lifetimes are needed to being listening and perhaps embrace the concept of a higher power or God. Many more lifetimes to then expand beyond those concepts developed in organized religions and become open to even higher truths and, eventually, to expand into one’s own True Self and become enlightened. he gave her, and us, permission to trust the greater flow of life for those that we love and for those that we may hear about who seem so stuck in the dark ages or in what we have come to see as limiting belief systems.

His teachings bring me peace for myself as well. I no longer question or regret that I discovered yoga at the age of 42. I began meditating before that and yoga took me deeper into that practice immediately. I came to understand that my journey was and is perfect for me. Everyone’s journey is unique and sacred because all paths eventually lead home.

This is difficult to grasp, accept and embrace when we are looking at belief systems that create havoc and destruction. I must remind myself to stay in my own moment, live from the peace of my soul and trust that all that emanates out from me touches everyone and everything on this planet and beyond. I meditate and pray for love and peace to flow into every heart and mind. I focus on the process rather than on the behavior of others. I cannot change another person’s beliefs or behaviors. I can live mine and support the evolving journey of others. I can have compassion for those who do not yet see, who do not yet “get it.” I can weep with those who weep and support those called to create peace on a global scale, God bless them all truly and deeply. I can fulfill what I am called to in this moment, in my path, remembering that this world, this life and all that I am experiencing is transitory, temporary and only one small part of what I am all about.

What do you believe? Why are you here? What is unfolding in your present moment?

What do you believe? Are you present in your moment, your life? Do you honor your own path as sacred? Do you honor the path of others whether you understand it or not?

Whew. It’s a lot and yet it refines everything down to this moment. What do I believe about this moment and am I present with mySelf in it?

I love you and I honor your path as sacred. Be blessed, dear heart, for you are loved.

Aum shanti, peace.

Think On These Things

LOVE

PEACE

RESPECT

REVERENCE

GRATITUDE

OPENNESS

COMPASSION

ACCEPTANCE

SOUL

FORGIVENESS

RELEASE

PERSONAL TRUTH

BEING

SILENCE

WISDOM

TRUE SELF

NON-DUALITY

BREATH

PERCEPTION

ONLY NOW

Really, let yourself think on these things. Then, simplify them all down to just one thing.

Have fun today. Laugh. Sing. Hug. Be.

Namaste.

Go Upside Down

When all else fails, go upside down.

In yoga, an inversion is defined as hips above heart, heart above head. When laying on your back, placing a thick folded blanket under your low back (4 or so inches thick) elevates the hips above the heart and the front of your heart is above the back of your head. This is the most gentle of the inverted positions. Postures like downward dog and forward fold are more intense inversions. Shoulder and head balance are the most intense. There is a yoga prop called the Yoga Lift that allows a full inversion with no weight at all on the head. I use this 2-3 times per day and, since I practice alone, I know that I am safe in this full inversion.

But why go upside down? The full inversions require our muscles to engage in the opposite direction, lifting and holding the lower body up rather than the upper body. This stimulates the vascular system, nervous system and muscle fiber to function differently and all of this challenges the brain and awareness as well. The blood flow to the brain through the upper body, neck and head is obviously more intense and that increase in volume and pressure helps to keep the blood vessels free of plaque. Your heart can rest a bit because gravity does the work and gives your brain a bath. Sensory organs in the head get one also and everything just works better!

Inversions also calm and refresh the adrenal glands and support lowered blood pressure. For those who have naturally low blood pressure, the less extreme inversions are safer and I would suggest holding them for only 5-10 breaths. I also would say to do them 3-4 times a week rather than every day.

I started out by saying “When all else fails…”  I invert when I catch myself in circular thinking or when I am just not clear about a decision or what to say or how to say something. Going upside down requires me to focus and to guide my breath. Then it relaxes me and gets blood to the brain so that I think more clearly and am more in touch with my truth, my feelings, myself.

I just like the way the world looks upside down! So does my 18 month old granddaughter. She loves when I turn her upside down. She looks around and laughs because everything looks so funny upside down! She reminds me to open my eyes when I am upside down and see that the world is really pretty silly! So why do I let it make me so serious? Good question.

May you go upside down today! Namaste.

I’m sorry you…

In the early years of my marriage, when conflict arose, my husband would see that I was upset and say to me, “I’m sorry you got your feelings hurt.” In my naivety I thought he was truly sorry for what he had said or done that wounded my tender heart. We are vulnerable to those we love, yes? At some point it occurred to me that he never said, “I was wrong to have said that and I am sorry I hurt you.” He wasn’t apologizing at all. An apology is about taking responsibility for your own attitudes and/or behaviors. As I came to learn, he was seldom able to recognize when he was inflicting hurt on others. He felt their hurt was due to being weak mentally and emotionally.

I am grateful for those experiences, as difficult as they were, because I learned valuable lessons that made me more aware of my own attitudes and actions. I came to understand that I am capable of wounding another person and that I am responsible for that behavior, even when it is not my intention to do so.

In Sanskrit, the word for inflicting harm or doing violence to another is himsa. Yoga philosophy teaches us to live without doing harm or violence, to embrace ahimsa.

Recognizing my own attitudes and behaviors is, of course, a process. Awareness is the key to knowing when I have done harm and when I haven’t. Awareness is also the key to making amends in loving and honest ways. A supervising manager that I worked for years ago taught me a priceless lesson for life. I wasted precious hours and days trying to fix an error I had made because I did not want to admit to her that I had made a mistake. I never figured it out and ended up having to go to her with it. I was embarrassed by the mistake and by having to admit how long I had been trying to fix it. She had me close the door and sit down. My heart was pounding. She looked at me and quietly said, “Catherine, I don’t expect you to know everything. You have wasted valuable time on this. In the future, just come to me and ask for help. Now, let me show you what needs to be done.” At the end of our meeting, I thanked her and apologized for not coming to her sooner. I walked out feeling free to be wrong!

Saying “I messed up” is powerful. In personal relationships, more is at stake. So finding this level of self-awareness and honesty is even more powerful. That experience from my youth made me very aware of how I take responsibility, how I apologize when I have injured another. Which would you rather hear:

“I know my words were hurtful to you and I will be more gentle in the future. I am not always kind when my emotions are running high.”

OR

“You are so sensitive and you get your feelings hurt so easily; I am sorry your feelings are hurt.”

Which one releases you to deal with your own hurt and let it heal? Which one shows that I am taking responsibility and am willing to learn and grow in the way I relate to others?

Enlightenment does not mean it is impossible to hurt me. Enlightenment doesn’t mean I will never again wound another person. Enlightenment means that true awareness will enable us to deal with any harm done honestly, lovingly, and compassionately.

May you be blessed with gentle awareness and the ability to speak your truth with love and compassion for yourself and others.

Namaste.

Practical Yoga

Hatha Yoga is one of the most practical tools for maintaining balance physically,mentally, and emotionally. And you don’t even have to do the asanas, postures, perfectly to reap its benefits!

For example, when facing one of life’s “battles,” in a relationship, at work, or in your finances, do warrior. Warrior opens the heart and draws the mind into the core of your body. Breathe to your belly slowly and evenly and remember that your strength and wisdom come from within. Take 3-5 breaths on each side, longer if you prefer. Affirmations are useful as you hold. Inhaling I breathe; exhaling I have courage (or I am strong).

Triangle is the posture of openness. Remember, you don’t have to put your forward hand on the floor to gain its benefits. Do triangle at the place where your body feels open in the shoulders and chest, even if your hand goes no lower than your knee. This asana is helpful in relationships. When holding, bring your awareness to the heart center and soften your rib cage. Breathe slowly and evenly and use an affirmation. Inhaling I breathe; exhaling my heart opens to love.

In the natural flow of life, we experience loss in many ways. Grief follows and can be embraced for its ability to enhance compassion and wisdom in our lives. Child pose creates a time and space that feels safe and warm, especially when done over a yoga bolster under a blanket. You can cover your head with the blanket as well if you feel the need to fully withdraw into the fetal position. Again, awareness comes to the breath as it expands into the abdomen and rib cage. Feel your body as it moves with your breath. Let the energy that wants to collect in tightness flow instead. Grief is an intense emotion but letting it flow lightens it. It may leak out your eyes in the form of tears; this is a good thing. Studies have shown that the chemicals in tears change depending on the cause of the tears. The body knows what to let go of!

Hatha yoga is a practical tool. Let yourself feel each asana in a whole new way. Form and alignment are important yet they are not everything. Their purpose is to release energy to flow well and easily and to protect from injury in the practice. The purpose of yoga goes way beyond those things. Open your mind, your body, your heart to new ways of experiencing your practice. Keep it simple and who knows what might unfold.

May our minds and hearts be open. May we continue to unfold into the awareness of True Self. May we live in ease as we discover our peace within.

Namaste.

The Energy of Expression

How do you manifest and express yourself in the world? Does this manifestation and expression align with your True Nature, your True Self or Soul?

These questions are in my awareness because of the recent transition I created that moved me to another state, brought my decision to take a hiatus from teaching weekly classes, and presented me with the opportunity to evaluate everything from my wardrobe to what I want to do with the rest of my life.

In hatha yoga we seek balance throughout our energy system which includes our physical, mental, emotional, spiritual self. The chakra system helps us to understand how energy flows and localizes in the physical body. Balance in the flow of energy is key to the attainment of wholeness, well-being, and enlightenment.

The fifth chakra, at the base of the throat and back of the neck, is the focal point of the energy of self-expression or how we manifest ourselves in the world. The more balanced we are, the more clearly we can manifest True Self. One of Shakespeare’s characters declared “The truth will out!” Oh yes, it will. Most of us know that we put on our best behavior when we first meet someone or take a new job. The average person can maintain that for about three months and then opinions begin to be expressed more freely and habits become more obvious. Someone working very hard might be able to maintain their best behavior for six months, but that is rare and totally exhausting.

Wouldn’t it be easier and more real to live from our best consistently? Of course it would, and this, dear hearts, is the path of enlightenment in a nut shell.

So, a quick look at how to use the flow of energy to achieve a truer and healthier manifestation of True Self.

Chakra 1:  This is the root chakra at the base of the spine. It is the energy of being grounded, connected to the earth. It is the base or foundation of the system we want in balance. The color of the energy here is red.

Chakra 2:   Located between the pubic bone and the naval, this is the energy center of relationships (families, communities of all kinds), our connection with others. The color of the energy here is orange.

Chakra 3:   This energy center is behind the naval and is the home of the self and the will. This is where we know ourselves. The color of the energy here is yellow.

Chakra 4:   This is the heart center and holds the Love that comes to us from All That Is as well as the Love that we manifest to the world. The color of the energy here is green.

Chakra 5:   This is the throat chakra as mentioned above. The energy of self-expression emanates out from here, not just verbally but in all forms of expression. The color of the energy here is blue.

Chakra 6:   This energy center is also known as the third eye. This is the energy center of personal truth, of how we see and understand the flow of life. It is a portal to higher truth and awareness. The color of the energy here is the soft, clear purple of an amethyst quartz crystal.

Chakra 7:   This is the crown chakra at the top of the head. It is the energy that connects us to the Source of All That Is. This is where we experience our Oneness with All That Is. The energy of this center is pure white light.

If I desire for the energy of self-expression at Chakra 5, the throat, to be clear, balanced, and a true manifestation of mySelf, I will create balance from below (1,2,3,4) and above (6,7). I do this in every level of my being and awareness: physical, mental, emotional, spiritual.

My foundation (chakra 1) is solid and I feel grounded.

My relationships (chakra 2) are healthy and growing. I attract healthy people who are of like-mind.

My awareness of Self (chakra 3) continues to unfold. I know mySelf and live mindfully from that awareness.

My heart (chakra 4) is open to the Love that flows to me from All That Is and that Love flows from me to others.

My manifestation of True Self (chakra 5) is clear and true as I live from the Love and Compassion that I Am.

My Personal Truth (chakra 6) comes from my level of awareness and enlightenment, which continues to unfold.

My oneness with All That Is (chakra 7) is the source of my wholeness, balance, and truth.

Just as my body functions every moment of every day to maintain its balance through the process of homeostasis, my True Self continues to unfold into enlightened expression of the Oneness that I Am.

Namaste.