Besides the clear health benefits gained by walking (strengthens your heart and lungs, releases feel-good endorphins while reducing stress and anxiety, and tones muscles to name a few), walking provides time to think, meditate and step out of the rapid pace of modern life.
Victorians are lucky to have an abundance of bushwalks that are spectacular, safe and easily accessed. For my husband and I bushwalking is a cheap and easy way to get fit, a great way to de-stress, a perfect opportunity to leave the suburban life behind, and most importantly, reconnect with nature.
This weekend in Victoria is a long weekend, so my husband and I have packed up our tent, sleeping bags, camping chairs and camp stove and have headed off for a weekend in nature with the plan to go on several bushwalks…
Well with the endorphins still pumping from our afternoon hike, I’d like to share with you some ways in which I enhance my bushwalks (and how you can too).
Connect with your body:
Take the time to sense your body as you walk. Feel your feet supporting you as you walk, your lungs expanding and contracting, and your heart beating in your chest. Send good thoughts to them, appreciating how much they do for you every day. Observe any aches and pains and send good thought to them too.
Try switching off and really focus on your surroundings. Utilise all of your senses- listen to the grasshoppers hopping from strands of grass, the cicadas chirping, the birds singing and the lizards rustling in the dry leaves and bark. Inhale the fresh eucalyptus-smelling air, feel the uneven ground under your feet, look up and observe how the light filters through the leaves creating patterns against the clear blue sky, notice the puffy white clouds float through the sky or feel the rough and smooth textures of the bark on the trees as you gently brush your fingers along their trunks as you pass.
Take a moment to meditate:
Find a peaceful spot, take a seat, keeping your back straight, close your eyes, and just practice sitting.
Find a good earthy spot, take your shoes and socks off and just walk on nature. Stand for a while and imagine you are an ancient tree with roots that feed down deep into the soil connecting you to the earth, supporting you and keeping you upright. This type of grounding visualisation works with the root chakra and will help you feel grounded, safe and secure.
Walking with friends or family and talking to them is far more personal than talking to someone on the phone/ over Facebook, etc. If your friends or family don’t share the same interests as you, why not try joining a meet-up walking group? When my husband is not available, I sometimes meet up with walking groups around Melbourne. It is a great opportunity to walk with like minded people. Meeting new people can also allow you to share ideas or just give you an opportunity to listen to a different point of view.
Walking connects you to the earth, reconnects you with nature and is a great way to distress. If you are already a walker, why not try some of my suggestions above! And if you aren’t already a walker, why not get out and try it for yourself?
You know that feeling when you read something that really hits home? That feeling when you hear a song that speaks to your soul. When you read or hear something that you deeply connect with, that explains exactly how you feel in a way that you could never quite put into words? Well that’s what I want to share with you today…
Scars can be hard to come to terms with. They are a constant reminder of how they came to be and can be a painful reminder of something which made such a mark on your body and your soul.
As the group farewelled me goodbye from my hospital bed, I was presented with a present- a book called ‘Little Bee’ written by Chris Cleave. Whilst in hospital, the book lay there unopened. I just didn’t have the energy or desire to read. But on my return home to Australia and back to my parents’ home where I would live for the next 22 or so months, I picked it up one night when I couldn’t sleep and it just spoke- or should I say screamed- to me.
I was feeling miserable because I couldn’t walk. I hated feeling helpless and not being able to do anything for myself. But most of all I hated the horrible scar that ran down the outer side of my right leg; it was ugly and made my ankle and leg look deformed and worst of all it was a constant reminder of everything that I couldn’t do and that I had to give up.
Then I turned the page and read: “I ask you right here please to agree with me that a scar is never ugly. That is what the scar makers want us to think. But you and I, we must make an agreement to defy them. We must see all scars as beauty. Okay? This will be our secret. Because take it from me, a scar does not form on the dying. A scar means, I survived.” and immediately I felt better. I read the words over again and the resonated with me wholly. Perhaps, my scars were not as ugly as I thought they were. Perhaps these scars meant that I was stronger than I thought. Perhaps, instead my scars were actually a sign of my inner strength and perseverance and most of all perhaps I should stop feeling sorry for myself. This one quote allowed me to be thankful that it was over and that I was beginning to heal.
“Some people see scars and it is the wounding they remember. To me they are proof of the fact they’re healing.”- Linda Hogan
Wounds heal and so can we heal our pasts. However that does not mean that the pain ceases to exist. It doesn’t mean that you never have to face up to the pain but instead what it does mean is that we are able to heal. When we look up and look around and acknowledge where we have been, we will never allow our past to stop where we can go.
A scar means “I survived”. A scar means we have a life to live, with all the pain and joy and confusion that life can hold.
It is funny how people and things come into your life just when you need them most. So, here’s my question to my readers out there, have you ever read or heard something that you deeply connect with, that explains exactly how you feel in a way that you could never quite put into words? If so, I’d love to hear about it!
A few years ago I signed up for an online Mindfulness course along with a 2 other courses. Well 2 years later and I have eventually got around to starting the mindfulness course (luckily it doesn’t have a time limit LOL). I thought today would be a good opportunity to share with you what I have learnt so far…
Mindfulness is about taking a step back and being aware of how you’re feeling. It is a method of paying close attention to your thoughts, moods, sensations and emotions in the moment without any judgment.
I love the time I devote each day to myself to pursue peace and calm. Every morning I have a daily routine followed by about an hour of yoga and meditation before starting work. This time is crucial for me to let go of my daily tasks and the running commentary in my head. It is a time for me to check in with myself and see how I am and enables me to set a platform for mindfulness.
Gaining skills in mindfulness might help you become more aware of the world around you, how you feel, the urges you experience, and how to take decisions about these urges. It can also provide a new perspective on negative emotions, feelings and bodily sensations. This, in turn, can give new ways of managing them.
When life get really busy, a sense of peace and just being can become a little lost or sidelined. However having a small array of mindfulness moments can help us maintain a feeling of ease, peace and calm in our daily lives. Below I have put together a few mindfulness moments that I have learnt along the way that you might like to integrate into your life:
Breathe- simply observe each breath as it comes in and out. Don’t try to change or force it, just observe.
Relax muscles- notice the tension that can be held in many areas (especially in the jaw and shoulders) and let it dissolve.
Flow- focus on the present, just doing one thing at a time and enjoy the peace and ease this offers.
Just being- spend a few moments doing nothing, just letting it all go.
All of these activities will calm the mind and body. In these moments we are able to let go, become still, feel peaceful and be mindful.
I believe having a small array of mindfulness moments can help us maintain a feeling of ease, peace and calm in our daily lives. Taking the time to become aware of, appreciate and understand the world around you, how you feel, the urges you experience, and how to take decisions about these urges is a magnificent gift that you can give yourself.
You may already have practised some of these or have your own. If you do have your own, I’d love to hear about them, simply share your mindfulness moments in the comments section of this post.
If you are always rushing on to the next moment, what happens to the one that you are in? – Anonymous
Like setting the foundation (See: Set the Foundations (Yoga Teacher Training) – Part 1), this is part of the first principle because it is also extremely important. For me, I think of this as more about ‘opening your heart’. When you practice yoga, your chest/ heart centre should be open.
As a child, I was a severe asthmatic and before being medicated I recall multiple times hunched over gasping for breath and my primary PE teacher yelling at me ‘walk it off with your hands on the back of your head’. Why did he tell me to put my hands on the back of my head you may ask? Well its simple, this simple action opened my chest up and in turn opened up the lungs allowing me to breathe easily. So what was happening when I was hunching over then? I was actually compressing my lungs, making it harder for them to expand with deep breaths which resulted in me taking shallow, inadequate breaths.
Why is this so important now-a-days?
I have just established that when we hunch over, we are compressing our lungs. So now let’s take a moment to think about all of the activities that we do every day (and sometimes for long periods of time) that close our chest and therefore compress our lungs- sitting at a desk all day, typing on a computer, or not sitting in the correct chair are all examples of ways that we close our chest every day.
Physically, opening to grace creates more space and naturally brings you toward a more optimal alignment. Opening your heart centre can make you feel taller, lift the heart, open the throat, and melt away tension.
So, what does this mean when applied to your yoga practice?
Of course, open to grace means so much more than just opening your heart space physically as described above and like all yoga practices it also has mental, emotional and spiritual benefits… just think about what the world would be like if everyone walked around with their heart emotionally open all of the time.
What does this mean when applied to other aspects of your life?
“The boy and his heart had become friends, and neither was capable now of betraying the other.” – Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist
In English we have so many sayings referring to our hearts- open your heart, listen to your heart, follow your heart, speak from the heart, have a big heart, etc. It is so true that when our hearts are open and we listen and follow our hearts that we will find success and happiness. When you speak from the heart you will not only speak your truth but you will be mindful of those who are listening and will refrain from saying hurtful things. When we have a big heart we are said to be someone who is kind, caring and loving. When you listen to and follow your heart, you can never be led astray. And finally, when you open your heart you are open to receiving all of life’s lessons.
If becoming friends with your heart means opening up your heart to others, listening to yourself and following its advice on what you need, speaking your truth while being mindful of others, and being kind, caring and loving; then the world would be a better place if everyone became friends with their heart and opened their heart more often, wouldn’t you agree?
In order to sustain any type of growth or success, one must have an open heart and a solid foundation from which to build. Whether it’s a new creative pursuit, a new personal goal, or in your yoga practice, a good understanding of the fundamental elements and an open heart will help you establish a foundation that allows you to thrive.
When you live with an open heart, unexpected joyful things happen. – Unknown.
Yoga Teacher Training (YTT) is about opening your heart and sharing something that is special to you with others so that they too can feel as good as you do when you practice yoga. While my YTT was Hatha yoga, during our training one of my amazing teachers, Amanda taught us about the Anusara Yoga’s Universal Principles of Alignment:
I’m not going to pretend that I am now an expert on this topic but I thought that the first principle would be a great place to start as it kind of sums up my yoga journey to become a teacher of yoga- learning how to safely and correctly teach yoga and opening my heart and sharing something that is special to me with others.
Set the foundations
This is part of the first principle because it is most important. Everything else builds from it. Beginning your Hatha yoga practice by building a strong, flexible, and solid foundation is essential. Like any structure- think buildings, bridges, yoga is built from the foundation up and the foundation is rooted firmly to the ground. If you look at an asana the foundation of the pose which is touching the floor affects everything else. Yoga poses either start their foundations in the feet or hands (or, in other words, from the ground up).
If your foot is placed even slightly out of alignment, it translates up to your knee, pelvis, back, and so on. If your hand is turned out or the finger tips are lifted, your wrist, elbow, shoulder and neck may experience unnecessary strain. Therefore, it is essential to begin by building your feet as your solid roots to build upward. If your feet/ hands are fully connected to the earth, they will move energy up correctly through your ankles/wrists, knees/elbows, hips/shoulders and spine, preventing unnecessary injuries and allowing you to practice and master more advanced asanas successfully.
In yoga, you build a firm and level foundation by focusing on your foundations (whether they be your hands or feet), and from it a strong, spacious, and elegant pose will rise. To create a firm foundation, use the strength of your legs or arms to send strong roots into the earth; make the foundation level by contacting the floor evenly with your feet or hands. Building awareness in the feet/hands in each and every pose may sound tedious, and yes, it can take years of practice, but it’s well worth the effort. When building a house, having a solid foundation will determine the viability of the rest of the structure as it goes up, so too will having a solid foundation in your yoga practice ensure that the rest of your body is well supported and protected.
According to my 3rd surgeon, balance and shape of your feet are determined by the shapes of the bones in your feet, the structure of the ligaments that hold the bones together, and the muscles that move and position the bones. Though research I found out that the bones and the structure of the ligaments are hereditary, but you do have the power to change the strength, flexibility, and coordination of your foot muscles. Since doing yoga regularly, I have made significant changes to the shape and balance of my feet- my right toes have spread and my foot is slightly wider. This has allowed me to gain better balance and compensate for the irreparable damage that my foot and ankle have endured.
So what’s the life lesson?
Life is a journey and it’s up to you to set the foundation; to know when to pursue and when to let go. It’s up to you to look after your mind and body through meditation, exercise and healthy eating before you get sick, not just treat it when it is sick. It’s up to you to make choices that will serve you instead of hinder. It’s up to you to monitor and control your thoughts, feelings and actions. It is up to you to love yourself first and foremost so that others can also love you. Change is inevitable but when you set the foundations right, you are anchored and can brave the ‘stormy of high seas’ of life.
Whether you are setting the foundation in a yoga class or in your daily life, it is imperative to get the fundamentals right. Please come back tomorrow for the second part of this 2 part blog. I hope you have enjoyed reading my blogs so far.
Dedicated to Marina, Amanda, Tatijana, Jessica, Julia, Katelyn and Laura. Thank you for sharing some of my most profound and life changing yoga moments with me, Xx
For those of us who practice yoga, isn’t it often difficult to explain how transformative a yoga practice can be?
As mentioned a previous post “Transform your Mind, Body and Spirit” yoga provides many physical, mental and spiritual benefits, such as improved balance, strength and flexibility, it can increase your happiness, focus and self-esteem, and can provide inner strength, benefit your relationships and connect you with guidance. However, there are also many wonderful life lessons to learn through yoga.
Today I wanted to talk about 8 of the 10 most important life lessons that yoga has taught me.
To love and honour my body.
Dear Body, “I love you. I accept you. I see you. I promise to cherish you all the days of my life.”- Unknown
Today we are bombarded with images of perfection through social media and advertising, and it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking we should look a certain way. However the more I practice yoga, the more I appreciate my body for the way it moves, rather than the way it looks. I am thankful for its strength and flexibility, and for the way it functions. I am grateful for good health and the ability to be able to walk again. I now honour the physical temple that houses me by nourishing it with healthy foods, using positive thoughts and self-talk, listening to my body’s needs, through sunshine, movement and exercise and finally by treating it with dignity and love.
2. To be patient.
Our patience will achieve more than our force- Edmund Burke
In today’s society, we do not really have to be patient. If we want to buy something, we can order it online and have it delivered the same day. Yoga has taught me that good things come to those who wait. More challenging poses seemed elusive when I first started yoga, but with regular practice and perseverance and without force, I have been able to learn poses that once seemed impossible.
3. To not compare myself to others.
The only person you should try to be better than, is the person you were yesterday- Matty Mullins
I’m not going to lie, this was a hard one but I can honestly say that I do not compare myself to other people when I take yoga classes anymore. Believe me I used to feel very inadequate, especially in more difficult classes. Dealing and managing a long-term injury is always difficult. In the beginning I would find myself looking around, wishing my body was injury free or that I was able to get into that pose or look like that instead of the way I looked in the pose (usually awkward and uncomfortable). For a long time I have been able to focus on my practice and movement without being distracted by watching other people. However in the beginning of my Yoga Teacher Training I did find myself somehow getting distracted by the strength and flexibility of my peers and teachers but instead of wishing that I looked like that in this moment, I was inspired by their dedication and practice and refrained from feeling jealousy. I looked at what they were doing and endeavoured to improve my yoga practice so that I could be a better yogini than I was the day before. Thanks for the inspiration Amanda, Tatijana, Jessica, Julia, Katelyn and Laura.
4. Let go of things that no longer serve you
Respect yourself enough to walk away from ANYTHING that no longer serves you, grows you, or makes you HAPPY! – Robert Tew
It is natural for things to come in and out of our lives and when things that we have wanted in life come our way, we sometimes hold on so tightly for fear that we will lose it. Other times we may cling on to unhelpful thoughts or feelings. It’s normal to want to hold onto behaviors, thoughts or feelings, objects, or even people but when they no longer serve us, that is when this ‘holding on’ can become unhealthy and sometimes harmful. At times, our minds can make us believe we need these belongings, situations, thoughts, feelings or relationships, and out of this fear we desperately hold on to them.
By letting go of these things that no longer serve us, a powerful lesson is reinforced- the lesson to trust when it’s time to let some things go. This has been one of the hardest lessons for me, especially to let go of thoughts and feelings, and one that I am still struggling with now.
5. Slow down.
Slow down, happiness is trying to catch you- Clarissa Garay
I lived (and still do to some extent) my life in the fast lane. For those who know anything about doshas- I am a pretty typical Pitta. I speak quickly, walk quickly, think quickly and make decisions (most of the time) quite quickly. I am adventurous and am always planning my next adventure. I am also observant and I process information I gather accurately.
So when I noticed in my yoga classes that people who move slowly are incredibly strong and have good alignment, I too wanted to implement this into my practice. I started focusing on slowing down and not rushing to get to the end of the pose (or to finish a challenging pose).
I have learnt that growth occurs when we take our time and push through a challenge instead of rushing through it without reaping any of the rewards. I also started taking the entire breath for each movement and have noticed a change in my practice. This has also helped me outside of yoga. I am able to stop and smell the roses, instead of running from place to place (although I must admit my work life is still chaotic- and probably always will, I have made a conscious effort to bring balance to my work and private life). I now allow myself time to relax without feeling that I must always be doing something and for this I am a happier person.
Before I started yoga, I had little awareness of my breath. Breathing exercises are a huge part of any yoga practice, and they can be a very useful tool in our daily lives, too. As I learned to breathe in yoga, I started to become more aware of my breath outside of my practice and began to utilise these techniques in my daily life. I am now able to notice how my breath changes when I am nervous, and how I can focus on deepening and slowing down my breath to help myself relax. Focusing on my breath is one of the easiest things I can control, and I can do it anywhere at any time.
7. Be present.
Realise deeply that the present moment is all you ever have- Eckhart Tolle.
For the longest time, I could not articulate to other people why I loved yoga- but then I had a teacher talk about being present, and it clicked for me. When I am on my mat, I am only thinking about what I am doing and nothing else. Each pose requires focus and concentration that forces me to be present. This is not easy for me outside of yoga. As an extremely organised planner, I usually get consumed about something in the future- usually my next travel adventure. Being present is still a challenge for me, but I am much more aware of my ability to get caught up in future events and am able to bring myself back to the present moment. This has helped me better manage my stress and realise I can plan for the future but cannot control it.
8. I am strong and I can achieve more than I think
I am stronger than I think I am- Thomas Merton.
My accident and subsequent injuries spanning from 2010-2011 forced me to step outside my comfort zone and to have the courage to take massive action. Being forced to have to learn how to walk again made me a true believer that I can achieve more than I ever thought I ever could. I am strong. I am capable. I am determined. And so are you!
Stay tuned for my next 2 posts entitled “Set the Foundations & Open your heart (Yoga Teacher Training)” where the other 2 life lessons that need a blog unto themselves will be explored.
Finally, I would like to acknowledge that the life lessons that I mentioned above do not happen after one class, but if you stick with it, you might just find yoga will change your life in many beautiful ways!
While as a child (See: To meditate or not to meditate…Part 1) and whilst in hospital I found meditating easy (See: Road to Dhyana), I never really knew that I was doing it- I just did it. So surprisingly, when I was formally introduced to the practice of meditation through my yoga classes I must admit, I found it quite difficult to sit and clear away all my ‘head chatter’ so that I could focus all my energy on being open and present. I used to be able to find a million excuses for not taking even 5 minutes a day to sit and be quiet.
The ray of light through the clouds
That was until I went to a yoga retreat with Antonia Pont who read the following piece while we were meditating which she called sitting. It resonated with me so profoundly that it changed the way I thought and felt about meditating and practicing meditation. I hope you enjoy my condensed version of it and get as much as I did out of this insightful piece of writing:
As quoted in the book The heart of Practice- Understanding yoga from inside written by Orit Sen-Gupta, Uchiyama said that “people are living beings that have a head, and that in this head, thoughts and emotions are running about, arising and disappearing. That’s why it’s totally normal to think while sitting [meditating]. Just like there are secretions of hormones flowing in our organs, one can view thoughts as secretions of the consciousness. It’s just that at times, if we’re not careful, and sometimes even if we are, these secretions influence us and activate us too much.” (p.26).
The book continues to say “The most important thing in the practice of sitting is simply to let go, or relax. When we do this, we can see anything that comes up in our mind as the general landscape of our life.” (p.26).
Uchiyama is then quoted as saying “the deep skies never disturb the white clouds that are flowing in them.” (p.26).
There is no need for the sky to get rid of the clouds and there is no need for you to get rid of or get frustrated by your reoccurring thoughts during meditation. Instead, simply think of your thoughts as fluffy white clouds that gently float in and out of your mind, don’t hold onto them, just notice them and let them glide on by.
What does meditation mean to me now?
… the transformation of the mind
… feeling fresh and alive
… a state of serenity, peace and clarity
… pleasure minus excitement
… a thrill without anxiety
… love without hatred
… absolute joy and happiness
Mediation is a lifelong gift, something you can call on at any time.
So when asked: Should I try meditating? I say: Why not!
Dhyana, meditation or contemplation is the 7th limb of the 8 limbs of yoga. This post is called ‘Road to Dhyana’ because meditation is hard to achieve; it is a long and arduous journey. Sometimes, I can fully meditate and other times I am just practicing Dharana (concentrating) which is the step that comes before Dhyana.
I started meditating before I even knew I was meditating. As a young child I would sit in the sun in my mum’s beautiful garden with my back against the garage wall and… just sit and observe my thoughts without getting caught up in it. Sometimes I would get distracted by surrounding noises or a particularly interesting cloud, but for the most part I would just sit and observe. Then somewhere along the way- around my teenage years, I lost my ability to just sit and meditate. I had to always be doing something; with school, work and a busy social life there was little time to just sit.
But like everything else in my life, I found meditation again in my time of need. Whilst laying in a hospital bed in Honduras my ability to temporarily ‘slip away’ provided me with some relief from the terrifying situation that I was in and the pain that I should have been experiencing.
You see, after my accident I was taken first to a public hospital and then to a private hospital and finally to another private hospital. While the public hospital was beyond comprehension, it did not cause me too much trauma as I was there for only a few hours. However the second hospital was one hell of a traumatic experience, one in which I needed to escape from.
I lay in the hospital bed for 4 days in a foreign country with the only person who could speak English constantly telling me that I needed to give them money before I lost my leg. They refused me antibiotics for any infections and no pain killers were administered. My ankle and lower leg were a big as my thigh as my bones in my leg had bowed. I was scared, lonely and at first, in a lot of pain.
Luckily, I had meditation. Meditation provided me with temporary relief through diverting my attention and distracted me from the source of my pain by allowing me to focus on something else. My real pain and suffering thoughts and emotions were held in abeyance. I had learnt how to not give them any attention- to tune them out. My attention was elsewhere, and the relief was palpable.
Of course this isn’t a forever‐state; it’s temporary. Relief is lovely but, by its very nature, it’s short‐lived. I am in no way endorsing anyone to use meditation to escape their pain or suffering. For me I was able to use meditation to provide me with temporary relief from a certain situation that I knew would not last forever.
For those people out there reading this and thinking “Great! I can meditate my problems away” think again! These problems, issues, emotions, or pain keep on arising because they need your attention. They show up to be healed, blessed, and transformed but when you’re using spiritual practice to seek relief you’re doing the exact opposite. Meditation‐as‐relief is an escape strategy and not a healthy way to deal with you problems. When you seek to escape thoughts and emotions you’re not dealing with them and instead you’re denying them what they need to transform.
Instead I suggest that you use meditation to help understand it, come to terms with it and perhaps find ways in which you can begin heal it. Dr Ian Gawler of the Ian Gawler Foundationstates that “No matter where in your life you want to see improvement, meditation can help. It does not matter what age you are, your culture or beliefs; meditation is for everyone and can provide you with great benefits, many of which have been scientifically confirmed. This simple, yet powerful mind training tool, can bring long-term improvement to your health, well-being, relationships and career.” Mindbody Mastery. I can certainly testify that meditation has brought long-term improvement to my health and well-being and I am starting to use it for personal growth and to improve my relationships and career.
Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu
(May all beings everywhere be happy and free, and may the thoughts, words, and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and to that freedom for all).
“Meditation brings wisdom; lack of mediation leaves ignorance. Know well what leads you forward and what holds you back, and choose the path that leads to wisdom.” – Buddha
What is meditation?
By dictionary definition, “meditation” means to reflect upon, ponder, or contemplate. Meditation is immemorial: it was first recorded in written texts around seven thousand years ago in China. According to Dr. Ian Gawler the earliest written records of meditation being practised come from China around 5000 BC. They next appeared in Indian written records (Hindu Vedantism) around 1500 BC, and in the Greece around 750 BC.
In the yogic context, meditation, (Dhyana), is defined more specifically as a state of pure consciousness. It is the seventh stage, or limb, of the yogic path and follows Dharana, the art of concentration.
To me, meditation is cultivating awareness and learning to observe your thoughts (and mental activity) without getting caught up in it.
Meditation- A rich and extensive history
Have you ever asked yourself the question, “Where did meditation originate?” If you have, then you are asking the same question that has puzzled researchers, scientists, archaeologists and millions of others for centuries.
The briefest research will reward you with the insight that meditation is an ancient art. While written evidence of meditation has been around for thousands of years in countless forms, it is very likely that formalised practice existed even before then. Meditation has been practiced continuously in virtually all cultures and is integral to the core of all major religions and most spiritual paths in some form or another. In fact, many researchers believe that the practice of meditation comes from an instinctive and primal need to connect to the universe and to oneself. Some even suggest that if recorded history went back much further there would definitely be proof that meditation existed as long as human existence.
Meditation practices of various cultures
While this practice is often associated primarily with Eastern cultures and religions, it is apparent that meditation is a widespread and long-lasting phenomenon that is not solely limited to religions or Eastern cultures. The following are examples compiled by Terry Hurleyof cultural variations of meditation:
Native Americans sweat lodge ceremonies where they offer contemplation, prayers and offerings to the Great Spirit.
Christian monks practice contemplation and prayer in monasteries
“Lecto Divina” is the practice of early Christian monks method of reading the Bible. It was read very slowly as the meaning of each verse was carefully contemplated and considered.
The sound rituals of the Aborigines where they used dancing, singing and playing didgeridoos to keep the world in existence.
The Islamic practice of morning prayers and meditations.
Is Dharana (concentration) and Dhyana(meditation) important?
The short answer is yes, absolutely!
Meditation is important for every human being. Humans are guided by their wants and needs- Hunger drives us toward food, thirst pulls us toward water, in the same way, the soul yearns for meditation and this tendency is in everyone. Meditation is sustenance for the soul.
Why practise concentration and meditation?
For thousands of years people have used meditation to move beyond the mind’s stress-inducing thoughts and emotional upsets into the peace and clarity of present moment awareness.
Meditation practices are techniques that encourage and develop concentration, clarity, emotional positivity, and create a sense of calm. By engaging in the practice of meditation you learn the patterns and habits of your mind, and the practice offers a means to cultivate new, more positive ways of being. With regular work and patience these nourishing, focused states of mind can deepen into profoundly peaceful and energised states of mind. Such experiences can have a transformative effect and can lead to a new understanding of life.
How do I start concentrating/ meditating?
You don’t have to follow Patanjali’s eight-limbed path or move away to an ashram to have yoga & meditation benefit your life. You just have to begin to practice it. Simple. Easy. Powerful.
What do I do first? Breathe.
What next? Observe.
And then? Reap the benefits.
Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu
(May all beings everywhere be happy and free, and may the thoughts, words, and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and to that freedom for all).
Yoga is not about perfection and while in the West, it has become about coming to your mat one day at a time to learn more about yourself and train the mind to focus, it is also about something that goes past the asanas (poses) and pranayama (breath work). Even when this seems obvious it can be difficult to articulate what that “more” is, well I know it was for me to articulate exactly why yoga made me feel so good and why I kept on coming back to the mat. It is obvious that it was something more than just the physical, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. It wasn’t until I did my Yoga Teacher Training that I discovered what that something more was- it was The 8 Limbs of Yoga that are interwoven into all good yoga classes. The 8 Limbs were written by Patanjali in a sacred text called The Yoga Sutras in around 200 A.D. The 8 limbs help to define yoga and is a common thread in all styles and systems of yoga.
Living your life to the fullest takes time and dedication. Putting in the effort will take a little bit of self-discipline, but the rewards you will gain will be well worth it. The 8 limbs are a comprehensive way of life/ life philosophy that will help guide you to a more fulfilled life. Each of the eight limbs addresses a different aspect of our multifaceted being, and together they act as a road map to what most yogis refer to as “yoga off the mat.”
Here’s a brief overview of each of the eight limbs:
The 8 limbs begin with the Yamas which deals with one’s ethical standards and sense of integrity, focusing on our behaviour and how we conduct ourselves in life. There are 5 Yamas are universal practices and are as follows:
Ahimsa (non-violence or non-harming)
Bramacharya (sexual restraint)
2. The second limb consists of the Niyamas which are about self-discipline and spiritual observances and include:
Tapas (discipline or austerity)
Svadhyaya (spiritual studies)
Ishvarapranidhana (constant devotion to the Divine, God, or whatever you want to call ‘IT’- for me it is nature).
3. Asana refers to yoga postures but in Patanjali’s initial practice, it referred to mastering the body to sit still for meditation. The practice of yoga asanas came about eight centuries later, which helped disciples ready their bodies for meditation.
4. Pranayama is generally translated as breath control and consists of techniques designed to gain mastery over the respiratory process while recognising the connection between the breath, the mind, and the emotions. It is yoga breathing techniques designed to control prana or vital life force. You can practice pranayama as an isolated technique (i.e., simply sitting and performing a number of breathing exercises), or integrate it into your daily hatha yoga routine.
5. Pratyahara means withdrawal of the senses. It is during this stage that we make the conscious effort to draw our awareness away from the external world and outside stimuli. By withdrawing we are able to objectively observe our habits that are perhaps detrimental to our health and which likely interfere with our inner growth.
6. Dharana refers to concentration and it is through Pratyahara that we create the setting for dharana. Once we have relieved ourselves of outside distractions, we are then able to deal with the distractions of the mind itself which, if you have read my previous blogs, is no easy task for most people! We learn how to slow down the thinking process by concentrating on a single object.
7. Dhyana is the practice of meditation or contemplation. It is the uninterrupted flow of concentration. Dhyana is ultimately a state of being keenly aware without focus.
8. Samadhi, the eighth and final limb, is described by Patanjali as a state of ecstasy/ enlightenment/ bliss.
Yoga is a practice that anyone can do, on and off the mat. You don’t have to follow Patanjali’s eight-limbed path, but in my opinion it is when you begin to take yoga ‘off the mat’ that you start seeing the vast benefits of yoga in your everyday life. Keeping in mind these values and striving to aspire to them, even moderately, could be a huge tool in the pursuit of happiness. In addition, I feel like it is nice to understand the roots and foundation of a practice that you love doing for a deeper appreciation of the practice. As long as you remember that yoga is not about forcing, but about embracing the practice and the journey, it will certainly benefit your life.
I truly believe that knowledge is power, so I hope that in sharing this knowledge with you has, in some way, enhanced or empowered you in your life.