Breathe Slowly

I have a very basic breathing exercise I would like to share. While practicing breathing, try to use your nose if it is possible.

Find a comfortable way to sit. I suggest sitting in a chair, or cross legged. While sitting keep your back straight. Lengthen the back of your neck, you may draw your chin in and raise through the crown of your head to find more length through your neck. Alternatively you can practice lying on your back, your arms resting on the ground beside your body, your knees bent, and your feet resting flat on the floor.

Try to give yourself at least ten minutes for this practice. If you only have one minute then do that instead. Try to practice regularly, the more you work on this exercise the more benefits you will notice.

We are going to practice breathing without using the word deep; instead we are going to use the word slow. Breathe in and out as slowly as you can, it should feel comfortable and relaxed. While you inhale you can think of all the places where you breath goes. As you begin your inhale, you will expand the chest, that’s where your lungs are. Your chest expands in all directions. Visualize your lungs – the three dimensions, the front, the back, the sides, the top, and the bottom.

Keep your belly relaxed, as you expand the bottom of your lungs your belly will also expand, and the expansion can reach down into your pelvis too.

As you exhale drop any tension. Keep your shoulders relaxed, dropped down away from your ears. Is there any tension in your face? your eyes? Try to relax anywhere you find the tension. Continue to breathe slowly.

While you breathe remember to keep your spine straight. You may even notice that as you inhale you can feel space opening up between the vertebrae in your spine.

You may notice that with this practice your digestion improves and you feel more relaxed. Miracles happen when you practice breathing.

Please let me know in the comments below how this exercise is working for you.

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Dreamlike Quality

Recently I found myself lost in the desire to be chosen. It was something that could be considered a once in a lifetime experience. I knew that there was little I could do to influence a decision that would be made outside myself. The decision would be made by others as to whether they wanted me as a participant. The only control that I had was if I allowed it to agitate me, and whether I became consumed by my desire. I found a way to calm myself, to see that in reality what I thought I wanted was just an illusion. That in real life whether I was chosen or not chosen, one was not better or worse than the other. I recalled my research into Dream Yoga, the Tibetan Buddhist practice.

According to this practice our dreams have just as much importance for our spiritual growth and enlightenment as our woken moments. And while I was definitely interested in being chosen to experience something that seemed desirable, I remembered to tell myself “this is a dream, I am dreaming, the world is illusory.” The illusion is that we think that when something in particular happens, it is some kind of milestone, where we have achieved something. Of course this never happens because once we have the achievement, it soon fades and becomes unimportant. The consequence of our achievement is that there are disappointing aspects that come with every experience, including winning a prize, or being successful. In our minds we create this false idea of how amazing things will be once we pass this goal, then as we pass the finish line we notice that it’s not all we thought it would be.

In the end I was chosen to participate. Now as I participate I try to recall that desire. Because day to day I am now part of that group, the chosen group. There are undesirable elements in belonging to this group. I work on remembering the sweet details, to maintain a feeling of gratitude. This group I am a part of is a great experience, it would have been fine if I had not been chosen but it is actually quite nice that I was chosen. In conclusion, reflecting on this has been useful because I realize that I have not been practicing, I need to continue to repeat to myself while participating in this group, as a way to wind down the excitement and agitation that I have been experiencing as result of my membership in this group : “this is a dream, I am dreaming, the world is illusory.”

Unstuck

Anahata is the heart chakra. This Sanskrit word translates to unstuck. To be more balanced in this chakra we can evaluate the ways we become stuck in our lives. We can be stuck in our habits and we can be stuck in our stubbornness. We can be stuck in the ways that we stop listening to our intuition, instead running in automatic.

Our habits are an important element because they are the way that we show love to ourselves, and this is the first step we must take before we can truly love others. Habits that harm us are the ones we may find are most sticky.

Being stuck in our stubbornness is when we are rigid on how we see others and ourselves. Letting go of this rigidity is a way we can open our hearts.

Listening to our intuition in our relationships helps us to love others. We may feel that there is something we must share with someone, that we need to share the information with that person for loving reasons. But if that person is not ready to hear what we are trying to tell them, or we are not the right person to give them that information, then we may only be causing pain for that person. I find that by using my intuition I can be more careful and gentle when sharing knowledge.

When we become more balanced in the heart we feel more complete, more connected to the people in our lives. To become more balanced in our hearts we can keep in mind the different thoughts, habits and attitudes that we cling to. I continue to work on letting myself be unstuck.

Mindfulness

Zombies are mindless. Finding mindfulness may be the cure.

Specter frightening a young woman by Utagawa Yoshiiku

Mindfulness has been studied and found to be successful in treating physical and emotional distress. Functional magnetic resonance imaging is a type of photography used to view images of the brain; it has shown that brain activity changes in subjects who have learned to meditate. The images show that the areas in the brain that are involved in rumination and depression become less active. This type of photography was used to evaluate the resilience of the subjects who practice meditation while they were not meditating. The studies showed that emotional stability improved for these people.

Being focussed on the moment is something that can come and go – you may slip away and become a zombie at times. When you become a zombie, you may become obsessed or unhappy and forget about the fullness of the moment again. You do not need to feel that you have failed. Being perpetually mindful is not the goal. The goal is to spend more of your life in a state of mindfulness.

To achieve the goal of spending more of your life in a state of mindfulness, you can learn mindfulness meditation. You can also practice mindfulness in simpler ways. Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk explains how every activity that we do can be practiced with mindfulness.

“Washing the dishes

is like bathing a baby Buddha

the profane is the sacred.

everyday mind is Buddha’s mind.”

Quote from Present Moment Wonderful Moment: Mindfulness Verses for Daily Living by Thich Nhat Hanh

Slow down as you are washing the dishes, be aware of the dish, the water, and the movement of your hands. Be there in that moment while you are washing the dishes, instead of thinking of when you will be finished washing the dishes, and what you will do after.

Dream Yoga

Dream yoga comes out of Tibetan Buddhism, in which it is thought that we are most asleep in our ordinary life, and most awake during the night, or when sleeping. When we don’t exercise it, the mind can keep us asleep and in a state of suffering; keeping us oblivious to the connection, and peace that is found in awakening to the present moment. Yoga means to unite or yoke, and that is where we stop masking over things with labels, labels like good, bad, like and dislike. With dream yoga you can learn how to wake up in your ordinary life to how illusory the world we live in really is.

Stretching your mind is how it becomes more flexible. It can help you to transform emotions and thoughts that stifle you, freeing you to experience your true potential. With dream yoga you will be learning how to become lucid while you dream. This lucidity is experienced when you are having a dream and you become aware that you are dreaming, then you start to control the dream. One dream yoga exercise is to transform an object in your dream. It could be anything like a tree or a flower, now you transform it, it could change colour or size. This is how the mind strengthens and stretches, finding out that it is capable of transforming what you perceive as real. Without the lucidity in your dream you did not see that the tree was an illusion, when you transformed it you now became aware of how powerful your mind is.

This can later be experienced in your waking life when you are confronted by an experience that arouses a negative feeling. Now you might remember that you have a powerful and flexible mind, and this can help you to transform the negative feeling into something less negative and possibly even something positive. Having lucidity in your waking life, allows you to see that your reactions to objects, events, and people are something that you can transform.

Practicing Laughter

Dr. Madan Kateira, also known as the creator of laughter yoga, recommends laughing 15 minutes a day. Laughter is a potent medicine, and he knew that it must be spread quickly and to many people. That is why he chose to offer it for free. His vision was laughter clubs. People would get together in groups and spend time laughing together. He created exercises which would help people to laugh. Jokes used in laughter yoga are simple and innocent. Like one joke is to take out your imaginary empty wallet, and laugh.

In 2005 researchers at the University of Maryland found a link between healthy functioning blood vessels and laughter. Laughing releases endorphin like compounds which activate receptors to release nitric oxide; this dilates the blood vessels. Also, laughter reduces stress hormones, boosting the number of antibody producing cells, leading to a stronger immune system.

Laughing feels good. Laughter could potentially treat many diseases, when combined with other treatments. Spiritually you might start your journey into yoga with laughter yoga and then find yourself interested in meditation, chanting, and pranayama.

Ujjayi Breath and Prana

Ujjayi breath is also called ocean breath and victorious breath; there is a sound to it. It sounds like waves of the ocean. It is a form of pranayama, conscious breathing. It is commonly practiced while doing asana, the physical postures of yoga. This type of breathing is useful because when it is done correctly it helps you to assess the quality of your breath. You can hear if your breathing becomes jagged and laboured, or if the sound of your breath is steady. It supports slowing down your breathing, which allows you to breathe more deeply.

Prana is life force. Healthy life force is energetic and lively. When we think of where we get our energy, we habitually think of food. Sometimes we might think of water. When I started to take my yoga practice earnestly, I chose to practice hot yoga. This is mostly physical postures which we call asana practice and it is done in a sauna. It is physically challenging. In the primary stages I felt tired, I thought if I would eat more I would gain more strength. I ended up realizing my weakness was due to shallow breathing. As I concentrated more on my breath and started to practice ujjayi breath, I found I sustained the strength I needed to do the physical postures.

To practice ujjayi, you must become familiar with the epiglottis. The epiglottis is a piece of cartilage in your throat. You typically use your epiglottis when you sigh or breathe in a way that fogs up a mirror. Or you can find your epiglottis by breathing slowly and noticing where you feel the breath in your throat. Now try close off that area and breathe in and out. It is not a strong contraction, and you will not be making a very loud noise. Only loud enough that you can hear. You are using this breath as a tool for yourself, not to impress others with how loud you can breathe. The yoga teacher may perform this loudly, but they are only doing this to remind the class that they need to be breathing.

During final rest or savasana we allow our breathing to become relaxed, and we cease our ujjayi breath. While practicing asana, the physical postures of yoga, ujjayi breath is recommended. Ujjayi practiced while doing asana will faithfully deliver you more strength allowing you to carry out work. Ujjayi breath can help prevent injuries. Without the sustainable practice of ujjayi breath, you will not know when you are pushing yourself too far into a posture.