Monthly Archives: May 2012

YOU ARE ALIVE. THEN YOU MUST BE BREATHING!

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How you breathe says a lot about you.  Did you know this? Simple changes in breathing methods can result in less stress, more energy, better distribution of oxygen all through your body, better health, better mood…  Well, need I say more?

We are speaking here about real breathing.  The kind that truly benefits you.  Not just some shallow breath, held up tight in the throat and upper chest.  Not breath that includes holding your breath — that is not breathing at all a lot of the time.  Not breath that holds you in a perpetual condition of stress and discomfort.  And not breath that never manages to make it to the lower part of the lungs but is marked by a lot of heaving in the upper chest.

I breathe, you might say.  Yes, that’s true.  But why is the way you breathe so important? As a yoga teacher steeped in the traditions of pranayama and healthy breathing, I can say that the way you breathe can impact how you feel most of the time, how much stress you perceive, and how you handle your life.  There is an expression in yoga that goes like this:  If you can control your breath, you can control your life.  That is a pretty hefty statement, and I know it to be true because I have seen countless students of mine demonstrate this very point.

We call diaphragmatic breathing healthy breathing.  Here’s how it works:  Instead of shallow breath that is restricted to movement in the chest (chest breathing), you want to shift to deeper breathing that causes the belly to push out when you inhale and collapse when you exhale. I said the belly moves, not the chest.  Inhale, the belly goes out. Exhale, the belly goes in.  Try it!  Hold one hand over the chest and the other over the belly. Does it feel strange? Maybe ,when you inhale, you pull your belly in, not out.  You are doing contrary breathing and not allowing your lungs to fill properly.  It’s worth trying to reverse this.  It does not mean that your flat belly (that’s big these days), will go away.  And wait and see how much better you feel. 

Now you say you get it.  You can breathe this way. But you might think that this is special breathing, not to be done ALL the time.  Well, yes, it is to be done as much as possible.  There is more to be said about all of this, but save that for another day. Or you might look at a book called The Science of Breath, written by the same teachers who instructed me in these methods.

A couple more simple tips: Try to breathe only through the nose, not the mouth.  The nose is designed for that purpose.  Keep the duration of breathing, in and out, even, or slightly lengthen the exhale. Notice the quality of the breath.  If it feels agitated and jerky, see if you can make it smooth. The smooth breath soothes the body and the mind. 

Who would have thought we could learn so much from something we are doing day and night, as long as we are alive — breathing?  The breath is said to be the link between the body and the mind.  That is quite an important position to hold.  So take some time today to notice how you breathe.  It only takes a second to gather new insight into yourself.  What if a little change in breathing could actually change your life?  Imagine!

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Have a Big Laugh Today. It’s Good for the Spirit!

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What did the yogi say to the hot dog vendor?  “Make me one with everything.”  Then the yogi gave the hot dog vendor a $20 bill. “Hey,” said the yogi, “Where’s my change?”  The hot dog vendor looked at him and said, “Change comes from within.”  Baboom!  Cue the laugh track…

Who said the spiritual path has to be serious?  Do saints and prophets and the truly enlightened never laugh?  I think the best teachers and gurus always see the light and humor in the world around them.  Sometimes we “seekers” think that only by being serious about things like the perfect alignment in the posture, never missing a meditation, or setting a standard for ourselves that is almost impossible to reach is the way we learn Truth.  That is the perfect trap for judging ourselves and then everyone around us. Spiritual conceit is alive and well within the spiritual community.  Better to just “drop it” and lighten up.  Why not see the light,  joy, and humor in the world around you?

Laughter yoga is one of the fastest growing types of yoga spreading throughout  the world today.  Began as an experiment to see if laughter would increase one’s chance for healing from serious disease, the answer came back in a heartfilled YES!  Long ago, Dr. Bernie Seigel, whose books transformed the way we see illness (one being Love, Medicine and Miracles), taught us that the immune system is strengthened by humor. Cancer patients can improve and, as an added bonus, lighten up their journey through the process.  Prioritize humor in your life, Dr. Seigel would advice.  Laughter feels good and has (unlike many pharmaceuticals) no bad side effects and costs nothing.

So read a funny book.  One that I like is Growing Up Laughing by Marlo Thomas. It is chock full of funny stories and jokes.  Or look at some silly pictures. Get together with a friend who brings out the humor in you.  See a movie that makes you belly laugh.  It could be any movie, as stupid and goofy as you like.  One of our all time favorites is the spiritual cult film “Groundhog Day.”  We have seen it so much we can practically recite the lines.  We never fail to have a good laugh and learn a little spiritual truth along the way.  Whatever lightens up your life is the key choice.  You pick  it.  It’s YOUR laugh after all.  Have some fun! It is not a wasted, vacuous endeavor.  It is healthy “medicine” for the soul.

So give it a try. Laugh your head off!  Who knows? It might be catching.  You might become addicted.  You might start seeing the world differently.  Maybe when you laugh, the world will laugh with you. As Swami Muktananda, one of my favorite teachers said, you might “see the world as a divine play, as the light of your own soul, and enjoy it while still laughing happily.”

Take a Close Look at Your Thoughts: Do They Define You?

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“You are what you think.  With your thoughts, you make your world.”  Gautama, the Buddha, made this wise observation.

While spending time in meditation has enormous benefits, as discussed in earlier blogs, we know that it is a rare individual who will be constantly in meditation.  Not too many of us live in caves in the Himalayan mountains, drawn into days and months of meditation.  So, in those times when we are not quiet and drawn inward, it may be nice to know what we are thinking all the rest of the time, in those fifty thousand daily thoughts.

Many great minds have spent their time and mind power in thinking on this very subject.  One of those persons is my friend and teacher, Dr. Henry Grayson.  I will borrow from his writings on these matters and, in fact, took the Buddha quote from Henry’s new book Use Your Body to Heal Your Mind. I and my students have benefitted greatly by learning to follow the advice he shares in his chapter There Are No Idle Thoughts.  Try this:  If you are agitated or uncomfortable and your peace is interrupted, notice what thoughts are running through your mind.  Things like this:  I am stressed out.  I am so stupid.  I can never get anything done right.  Why am I always loosing my keys?  Why is that driver so slow in front of me?  I hate my life.  I can never have any peace.  If those around me would just be different, then I could be happy.  On and on and on.  We all have them — negative thought patterns.  We usually repeat the same ones every day.  Then we let ourselves become victims of our own thought, of our own making.

What if you “flag” those unproductive, damaging  thoughts? You actually notice them, are mindful of them.  Catch them.  You can say, “There it goes again, one of those negative thoughts.”  Once you know it is there, you have a chance to begin real change.  Then, as Henry suggests, you give your mind the truism that, if you keep thinking this thought, it will continue to disturb you, internally and externally. Then you can ask yourself if you want this kind of disruption to continue in your life. If you answer no, you can remind yourself that keeping these negative thoughts will only increase and you will be locked into that unhappy cycle.  Now, and this is the best part, you take action, you become the master of your thought domain!  You say to yourself, I cancel that thought. Or I delete it, dismiss it, banish it.  Poof! You can do this.  Now you have an empty place in your mind, so you want to replace it with a positive statement or affirmation about yourself. Words like: I AM a happy person. I am a good-hearted person. I am happy and healthy.  God is love and therefore, so am I.  You pick something good to say.  Imagine what will happen over time.  You will slay the dragon of negative thoughts and plunk in something kind to think about yourself.

Okay, I have distilled into this short message something that Dr. Grayson spends pages explaining.  I hope I have given you enough insight and encouragement to try this practice for a period of time and see how it will influence your life.  I don’t pretend that this is psychotherapy; that is not my arena of expertise. What I do know is this:  It has had a potent and positive effect on those who try it.  It did for me.  Now, for the real expert, read up on Henry Grayson, Ph.D., at his website, www.henrygrayson.com.

It is my hope that some of these ideas and suggestions will resonate with you.  That you will come to see yourself with compassion, kindness, acceptance, and love.  That you will remember who you are at the essence of your being.  That is the goal of this writing and of life.

Meditate: Interrupt Those Fifty Thousand Daily Thoughts

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Deepak Chopra, the medical doctor and gifted spiritual teacher, has written this: “Meditation is not at all a way of making your mind be quiet; rather it’s a way of entering into the quiet that’s already there, buried under fifty thoughts an average person thinks every day.”

Can you imagine?  Fifty thousand (some say seventy thousand) thoughts you have rambling around in your mind every day?  What could you possibly be thinking?  How important could all that chatter be? How much of that blabbering really matters?  Is it a bunch of old tapes playing, endlessly?  How much of it might be negative thinking, originating in thought patterns you developed even before you could speak? Are you just thinking the same stuff everyday, over and over again?  How boring and useless!  Or maybe you think that you are so fascinating that your mind wastes no energy on vacuous thoughts. Maybe you are the exception to the rule.

Most of us are shocked when we try to go into a space of quiet.  The mind, sometimes compared to a wild monkey, swinging endlessly from branch to branch, will try to thwart your effort.  The mind is very enamoured of those goofy thoughts, but you don’t have to be.  You can just be quiet, close your eyes, and be the witness, but not a participant, in those thoughts.  As if the mind rolled them out on a TV screen in front of you, let them play outside of you.  Let then go in one ear and out the other.  Just watch, from your quiet perch, without judging or getting hooked into them.  See what happens.  You might even find your mind to be quite an amusement and not so important after all.

Usually the mind acts as a deterrent to opening to the thoughts that really matter.  That there is a light within each of us that reminds us to love ourselves unconditionally.  If we just shut off those other thoughts for a while, we might actually hear those words and see that light.  Wouldn’t that be a marvel?  There is plenty of time for the thousands of other thoughts, if you like those instead.

Meditation. Quieting the Thought Waves of the Mind

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Imagine.  No thoughts.  No words.  Just silence.  You and the silence, the stillness, the quiet.  You and the breath and maybe, if you like, a phrase or mantra (like OM) to coordinate with the breath. To some people, this idea of meditation is daunting and exotic.  What will I DO if I am just sitting there, doing nothing?  Well, you see, that is the point of meditation.  Doing nothing.  Letting go of “doing” for a change.

In our high-speed, multi-tasking, hyperactive world, stopping the world to “get off” for a while, to rest and regroup, to refresh and slow down the chaos of the world is little understood or appreciated.  Yet there is an increasing interest in meditation and for obvious reasons.  The world is “too much with us”  all the time.  Sowe have to make our own choice to block out time and to shut off the ever chattering mind and the noisy world. 

As I prepare to teach a another class focusing on the many different practices of meditation and its benefits, perhaps it is worth recounting what can happen for those who meditate.  Words like feeling better about yourself, reducing stress and anxiety, lowering blood pressure, paying closer attention to who you are and how you feel, experiencing a little “vacation” from the world, clearer thinking, less depression, and maybe, just maybe, a sense of self-love and bliss.  The sky is the limit, we might say.

Meditation is called dhyana in Sanskrit and is one of the eight limbs of Raja yoga.  But meditation does not belong to any culture or lineage.  Anyone can do it.  Sit in a quiet place.  Let your hands rest on your lap or your legs.  Let your back be straight so breathing is easy.  Close your eyes. Watch your breath going in and out.  Keep watching your breath.  Go back to the breath even when the mind interrupts with thoughts.  Have no fear, the mind will do that.  Back to keeping the breath slow and smooth.  Sit for a few minutes, then stretch it out longer each time.  Don’t judge yourself.  Just try it.  Who knows, you might find you like it.  Give it a try.  You might get to know yourself so well, you will see just how much love is in your heart.  Love is the point anyway!