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.

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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.

Ishvara Pranidhana

This is the last of the niyamas listed by Patanjali in the Yoga-sutras. Ishvara is translated as Supreme Being, God, the Creator, Ultimate Reality, or True Self. Pranidhana means to fixate, surrender, or dedicate. Practicing Ishvara Pranidhana is similar to karma-yoga. As with karma-yoga, we detach from our egoistic tendencies and sensory desires when performing our duties, and we focus on our task. Doing this, our task becomes more meditative, which brings us closer to our True Self.

It is a noble act to detach from our ego and selfish desires because then we are not only interested in doing things that we know we are good at. Tasks are not chosen based on confidence; the concern is not with winning a prize. It’s less likely that you will take on projects that only benefit yourself. Instead, you may choose projects that benefit the whole.

Brahma Indian, Pahari, about 1700 Public Domain

Have you ever found yourself criticizing others for their efforts? It’s easy to stand on the sidelines and criticize, to be cynical, to be the person who explains that someone is wasting their time and what they are trying to do will never work. But how can you know that? Maybe it will work. Maybe it would work if you got up and joined them in their efforts and your attitude changed from “That will not work” to “It’s not about the end results. It’s about the efforts, and efforts are not wasted; they are a pathway.”

People often say, “Why would I do that if no one will offer me a reward?” A reason to do things that are not rewarding is that rewards do not really make you feel so great anyway. All rewards have an ending. When you have reached the ending, you are now at that low point again.

As explained in the Deeper Dimensions of Yoga by Georg Feuerstein, PhD, liberation is an even-temperedness. Our minds maintain an attachment to momentary pleasure. When we accomplish the most challenging physical posture of yoga or when we feel the benefits of our breathing practices, our experience is then compared to other experiences or to other people, leading us to a feeling of envy. The pleasure we experience is also shadowed by the fear and reality that our happiness will come to an end.

Ishvara Pranidhana is when we surrender to the Ultimate Reality, or our True Self. It is liberating. It’s seeing a bigger picture, that everything is connected. Living becomes more alive because we do not get stuck within thoughts about our likes or dislikes. Instead, we find ourselves more connected to the people in our lives and being present in the moment.

Proofread by Leona B. Hunt, BA, proofreader

www.leonahuntproofreading.com

The Gunas

Prakriti presents itself in objects and living beings. Within prakriti there are three different qualities, known as the gunas, which are seen in many combinations. The three qualities are sattva, rajas, and tamas.

Characteristics of sattva: goodness, truth, clarity, harmony, purity, balance, joy, intelligence
Characteristics of tamas: darkness, steadiness, heaviness, rest, laziness, ignorance, inertia, procrastination
Characteristics of rajas: passion, action, confusion, aggression, assertion, change, movement, cravings

Sattva helps with determining which guna we need to cultivate in order to improve well-being in the moment. At bedtime we wish to experience more tamas; darkness and rest are essential qualities needed for sleep and recovering the body, which will allow for more sattva during the day. When we are feeling overly tamas during the day, rajas with regards to habits can help us to experience more sattva.

In nature we observe an interplay of the three gunas as well; soil is dark and heavy(tamas), a seed is active and grows(rajas), plants purify the air and flowers bring joy(sattva).

Being overly attached to any guna can be misguided. For example, in modern agriculture, farms use herbicides to eliminate weeds; this results in monocrops, purity, in a way, because the field grows only one crop. This is an example of too much tamas with a bit of sattva. We have ignorantly assumed that using a poisonous chemical on a farm can create purity.

Another example is the overattachment to sattva in modern medicine; the overuse of antibacterial soaps and antibiotics to purify creates an environment free of bacteria. We have ignorantly assumed that our bodies should be scrubbed free of all bacteria. By doing this we lose the benefits of friendly bacteria in promoting a healthy immune system.

Another word used in translations of the word guna is strand. The gunas are like three strands that are woven together into the fabric of our world. They give objects and people texture, colour, and substance; and they give living beings emotions and thoughts. As yogis, we are seeking to incorporate more of the Sattva strands into our lives. We cannot do this without weaving in some tamas and rajas strands as well. Sattva helps us to experience, our True Self, and Bliss, thereby reducing suffering.

Proofread by Leona B. Hunt, BA, proofreader

www.leonahuntproofreading.com

Purusha and Prakriti

In our practice of Yoga we start to have an awareness that we are not separate from anything. According to Yoga, the illusion of separateness is where all of our suffering comes from. In Samkhya and many other Eastern philosophies, there are two basic elements that make up the world. At the most basic level, there is Purusha, which may be known as the Spirit, the Self, the Witness, the Source, or whatever you know it to be. The other most basic element is Prakriti, which is nature, or the physical part of our world. When these two elements join it is called jiva, a living being.

“Panjab Hills, Bilaspur. Opaque watercolor and gold on paper, ca. 1740.”  Public Domain

With jiva, other things come about. There is buddhi, known to be the intellect, and there is ahamkara, which is the ego. Ahamkara is the cause of our feeling of separateness; it is the “I,” and when we think on this level, we find ourselves alone. We think that we are different than others because we have these sentences that come about in our minds. Here are some sentences I had from my day at work yesterday: “Only I care about what happens here.” “Why can’t I be respected here at work?” Soon after, I made an effort to bring something from my buddhi: “We all want the same thing; we may not all know what it is, but deep at our core we want to remember that we are the same and that we are not separate.”

Prakriti is the container for Purusha. Purusha is your True Self. Becoming acquainted with your True Self is blissful. The Source, or your True Self, never changes; it is always the same, and it is always there inside of you, and inside every creature you know.

“They are forever free who renounce all selfish desires and break away from the ego cage of ‘I,’ ‘me,’ and ‘mine’” Quote taken from Bhagavad Gita.

Proofread by Leona B. Hunt, BA, proofreader

www.leonahuntproofreading.com

Yoga Nidra

Public Domain – Artist Unknown – Title: Vishnu Vishvarupa

I read the book Yoga Nidra for Complete Relaxation and Stress Relief by Julie Lusk a couple of years ago. At that time I needed to relax more. Yoga nidra is still something I turn to for relaxation and stress relief. As Julie explains in the book, stress is quite common in the modern world. Some of the causes are: local and world news, unsatisfying work, having too much to do and too little time, and problems with family, friends, and coworkers. Some of the physical symptoms of stress include sleep problems, diarrhea, constipation, cold hands or feet, jaw tension, substance abuse, and feeling ill at ease.

Day in and day out we may become stressed. The stress response that we experience is only useful for acute cases. Having to escape wild and threatening animals is rare but necessary. The stress response is useful in such situations; it signals the body to secrete hormones that give us more strength and endurance for running away. This response to stress may be useful when we need more strength and endurance to run away, but it is not useful for most of the stress we encounter. That is because these hormones do not help us to cope with difficult news, difficult work, and difficult people.

In the book Pocketful of Miracles, Joan Borysenko writes about the conditioned self. As we grow up, we respond to the stress of feeling unloved by changing our personality in ways that give us a sense of being loved or powerful. In doing this, we are separated from the truest source of love, which is the Divine Mind. The fear-based, conditioned self is referred to as the ego in spiritual systems. Using yoga nidra can help us to reunite with the Divine Mind and our True Self, which we also know to be the Source, Bliss, and Purusha.

Julie’s book also links to a website that offers recordings of yoga nidra. Yoga nidra requires the practitioner to lie in a comfortable position. Sometimes that will be the corpse pose also known as savasana or final rest in yoga. To get into savasana, lie on your back on a comfortable surface such as a yoga mat, and use a towel or blanket under your head as a cushion. Your arms by your side, palms facing up away from your body, lift your upper body to roll your shoulders away from your ears — and your legs are separated with your feet rolling down to the floor. It can be helpful to do some stretching or basic yoga to prepare your body. Using a blanket may help as it is common as you relax to feel a bit chilled. Now you are ready to listen to a yoga nidra script. There are many free recordings at the Yoga Nidra Network as well.

Proofread by Leona B. Hunt, BA, proofreader

www.leonahuntproofreading.com

Who is your true self?

My yoga practice became more dedicated when my body started to demand it. It was the stiffness and pain in my neck jaw and shoulders. That stiffness and pain is still there. But it is reduced.

As I spent more time in the yoga world I started to hear the term “true self”. And I wondered how I could ever find that; who I really was.

I thought it might be something that made me different from others.  But it’s not like that. It’s something that makes me the same as everyone.

It is very simple. Your true self is bliss and the stillness you sometimes find in the moment. Underneath everything you think you are is this peace.

Yoga helps you to unite with that bliss. We move our bodies into different postures to become strong and flexible.  This reduces stiffness and pain, and that helps us to find our true self.

Image by Renee Martel