A Journey into Yoga and Meditation

“Do Less~ Enjoy More”

      This time of year can be hectic for many of us and there is a contradiction of rhythms occurring, our natural rhythm calls us to slow down, be more reflective and hibernate. The rhythm of our culture is telling us to rev up, shop till we drop, indulge, do, do, and do more.  Many years ago I too subscribed to a more commercial Christmas, always looking for the next thing to do, buy or celebrate. I enjoyed the excessive lights, parties and all the activities that surround this holiday season. I still enjoy a small bit of that aspect but it is considerably less today. I love this time of year but I enjoy a more calming, peaceful experience. I find ways to celebrate by unplugging from the commercial trends and seek more traditional celebrations. There are a few local traditions which I love to attend each year when I can; Christmas on the Farm at Countryside Park, Christmas in the Dunes at Chelberg Farm, Save the Tunes at the Visitor Center, and I always take my grandson to see the lights at Sunset Hill Farm. These are not flashy activities and they require a bit more imagination, but they aren’t expensive either and they are full of the spirit of Christmas and the Holy Days Season.

      Our sister practice of Yoga is Ayurveda, this practice teaches us about the different constitutions we all inhabit, Pitta, Vata, and Kapha. This season is Vata which when too stimulated, like in our culture, increases stress, anxiety and fear. All of which we already have too much of in any time of year.  Soften the edges of excess by taking time to look at what is really important for you this time of year and consider doing a few things less. During this season of giving and receiving, take time to really feel the joy, peace and generosity of your gifting that is channeled through your love and not through expectation. Enjoy the simple things in your life as the true gifts; time shared with loved ones, anonymously gifting to another and helping out when it is not being watched or suggested.

      Also during this time find ways to nurture yourself with healthy foods like homemade soups or just enjoy a cozy evening nestled with cocoa and good friends. Start a caroling group and visit some of your elderly neighbors who might not get out as much. Take a walk in your local park and watch nature preparing for winter. Watch the skies and the shifting pattern of the sun moving to the south. The natural rhythm is calling us to slow down, do less and enjoy more.

      Our practice this month is to just sit and look out a window.                                

  • Find a window view from your home, a coffee shop, your office or over lunch anywhere you can be alone and undisturbed from your watching
  • Enjoy a warm beverage and just watch the happenings outside, don’t read or write, just watch without judgment or without having to name anything (for instance if you know the names of birds or trees and have opinion of whatever you are looking at, let that go and open yourself to just watch and feel the experience of watching the patterns unfold
  • Open your heart to feel the joy of this season, feel the gift for yourself and then feel it extending out into the room and then out to the world
  • Do Less~Enjoy More……….find Peace~
  • Merry Christmas, Season’s Greetings, Happy Holy Days and Happy New Year!

 Namaste

Cynthia

 

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Quiet Reflection in Gratitude

Every year I take a silent retreat during the Thanksgiving holiday. In the past few years it has been just two or three days. This year it will be four glorious days of silence. Some of you may be thinking that this would be impossible for you to do for a variety of reasons. It has taken many years for me to get to this point. My family has become accustomed to some of my, what appears to them to be, quirky ways; the desire to live in a tree or vacation in a monastery, or better yet being quiet for days on end and only listening to nature. However this all seems very normal to me and I cannot imagine why most people do not desire these things as I do. But this is a variety driven world so I adjust, I quickly forgive myself for not following tradition, and move deeply into my Interior Castle (Teresa of Avila). I will then linger in the joy and bliss of silence while experiencing the fullness of peace and a divine conscious connection.

I feel giddy at just the thought of this time I will spend and eagerly anticipate its arrival like a child on Christmas morning. Maybe you are a little like me and long for a retreat experience around the hectic holidays. You may be thinking how on earth could you ever do this with so many family obligations and commitments? Well you may not have four days but maybe you have an hour or two, or a day. Maybe instead of shopping on Friday you can find treasure at the inner mall or you can do both.

I retreat every day when I am in meditation, morning and night. In meditation I take time to let the world settle down around me and within me. Prayer is when I speak to God and meditation is when I listen. Last June I spent three days at a local retreat center (Lindenwood, in Donaldson, IN) and this was quite refreshing. Whether you are at a retreat center, home or in nature, it is helpful to transition in and out of your experience. It is necessary to prepare space for quiet and minimize interruptions.

I will spend a lot of this time in deeper meditation and reflection, while bringing attention and awareness in gratitude for all of the things I have in my life, and I will ask myself some of these questions: What are the lessons I have learned? How can I be more open to receive the gifts that are offered to me, and how can I give more with unconditional love?

When love is unconditional and we are living in gratitude, we are boundless, endless and infinite. We are free from all suffering, pain and worldly woes. But as soon as we touch our fears, anger and frustrations, we suffer and the world is painful, our energy is depleted and we are bound, no longer free. This is why I practice.

Our practice this month: Practicing Gratitude in Silence

* let family, friends know that you will be unavailable for the time you establish to retreat (any time you can arrange will be sufficient even if it is a half hour)
* unplug from all of your devices for your time allowed by turning them off (I will even take the battery out the clock on the wall and cover my television, etc.)
* whether you are at home, in nature or at a retreat center, prepare your space to just sit in reflection and contemplation
* watch your thoughts without judgment
* allow your thoughts to settle down (journaling can help this process to get things out)
* do not get caught up on emptying the mind, just watch what is going on, expand your awareness of thought and everything around you
* you may even want to find a gentle activity that does not take a lot of thought and will allow you to be quiet
* when we bring intention into our action or inaction, it brings it into a different dimension and experience
* feel gratitude by focusing on the heart and feel the heart expand
* Happy Thanksgiving/ ENJOY!

     I love life, and what I love most are the little things; the sweet smiles of my grandchildren, a leaf falling in a gentle autumn breeze, glimmering sunlight on the water, so many things bring me joy. But even as a young girl I have had a fascination with death. I grew up a conservative Christian so the idea of heaven was appealing and I never feared dying, just assuming that heaven was where I would go. As I grew older I had experienced death around me with passing family members or pets. These were sad times of course but I also began to wonder more and more about the process of death and became very curious about what was going on in people’s minds as they were leaving this plane of existence. Were they afraid? Did they feel peace and ready to go? What did animals experience? Where do they go? My curiosity only grew in later years as I started to explore other possibilities of death and its process, the more I explored the more questions I had.  I use to plan how I wanted my funeral to be and I wanted it to be a party with everyone dancing and celebrating knowing that I truly lived in this life and that I am at peace to find another. I did not like the idea of people being in a small dark room looking over my body and crying. No this is not how I want my death to be honored. I want to be outside in the woods or on the beach having a picnic, and this is my wish for those I leave behind. Of course I want to be missed but I also want to be remembered for having lived and finding joy and peace in this life.

     Honoring death can help to take away some of its dark mystery because we will all have to face it. One of my favorite movies growing up was “Death Takes A Holiday” with Yvette Mimieux. Death is portrayed by a very handsome fellow, it is Yvette’s turn to die but he falls in love with her and struggles with his mission to take her away. He waits days and thus they have a romantic interlude. Then my idea of death became a romantic one.

     In our culture we look at death as a disease or something to deny, many thinking that if we can deny it hard enough it is something that we can postpone indefinitely and maybe it will only happen to someone else. In nature we see death all of the time, particularly in this season of autumn as the leaves turn and die then fall to the ground. But this rhythm also brings the promise of new life as does my early religious beliefs taught me. In Mexico the national holiday, the Day of the Dead is an honoring of their ancestors. We have Halloween which has its origins of honoring saints and martyrs, but this has turned more into a hallmark holiday.
One of my teachers says to practice dying before we die. This is difficult but an important practice for anyone who wants to depart in peace. In our yoga practice we consider this notion regularly through the breath, the inhalation represents new life, and the exhalation represents death.

What if you knew you would die tomorrow? What would you want to do? I know I would want to be with my family and friends on the beach or in the woods having a picnic. How can we know how to live if we do not know how to die with grace, honor and curiosity?

Our pose this month is; Corpse Pose

• Find a quiet place to lie down.
• Allow the body to surrender to the floor releasing any tension in the toes and fingers by letting go and yielding to gravity.
• Soften the shoulders and the eyes.
• Relax the jaw and find your breath deep in the belly.
• Let yourself feel as if you are floating.
• Then bring intention of celebrating life on each inhalation and honoring death on each exhalation.
• Invite peace into your practice and feel that you are held in infinite wisdom and grace.

Space to Remember

       As we approach the new season, I encourage students to take time to reflect on the passing one.  It is important to give room for our thoughts and memories. We allow the good times to seed themselves into our core where they become good feelings and are available to draw upon when we need or want them. We also contemplate the not so good times as lessons learned, also bringing them into the core but without harsh criticism. We all know that some of life’s hardest lessons can produce some of our greatest gifts. In our yoga class we mostly emphasize on being in the present moment, to be awake and aware. However, it is equally important to reflect on our past as this helps us to process our experiences that hold our beliefs.  We need to think about our future so we can have plans and goals, this offers us hope.  In our culture, we believe that excessive thinking is something to be admired and healthy, but on the contrary, excessive thinking brings only more thinking and more stress, which is one of the top reasons for our dis-eases.

      Hearing about someone with Alzheimer’s disease has become all too common and this will only increase with our aging baby boomers. I have direct experience with this disease having been a caregiver for a dear woman who was afflicted with it many years ago. I now have a close family member who has it and it is truly difficult to watch them lose their memories and any hope for a different future.  While the research is still trying to find the causes and remedies, there are little things that we can do for ourselves to aid in keeping our brains and minds healthy.  In December of 2010 I wrote an article for The Chronicle on “Practicing Peace”, the pose that month was a finger exercise that helps left/right brain connectivity. It is an easy thing to do and we practice it a lot in our class. Our practice this month will get our whole bodies in motion for a brain exercise.

 

Let’s Get Started: Left/Right Brain Exercise

~ lay on your back with the arms stretched relaxed overhead and the legs extended long

~ extend the left leg straight up toward the ceiling and the right arm straight up

~ they do not need to touch as this is not a stretching exercise so much as it is a brain exercise, but do allow them to come as close together as possible keeping them extended while keeping the head and back on the ground

~ then let them return to the original position, arm overhead and the leg on the floor

~ proceed with the right leg and left arm lifting and continue back and forth

~ your left brain is trying to figure out what to do and then when you get into a rhythm your right brain can take its turn, eventually they work together

~ allow yourself to find a gentle flow to this and keep the breath moving along

~ once you have done this about 10 times on each side, rest with the arms overhead and the legs extended, close the eyes and let it settle within

~ now we will encourage the same practice but this time bringing the left leg and left arm up together and back down and then the right leg and right arm

~ Repeat this for about 10 times on each side and rest open with the arms still overhead

~ and of course, “SMILE”

~may your memories be good ones and always with you~

 

Namaste

 Cynthia

 

 

 

 

 

 

At a time when we are feeling uncertain of ourselves or unbalanced, we may need to seek an inner perspective. We have all had times when we may regret having said or done something. We all make mistakes and these are all part of life’s lessons, but not always easy. Can we move forward or do we stay stuck? Being stuck in the shadow of our 1st Chakra (muladhara) keeps us a victim. Chakra’s (translated as spinning wheels or vortices of energy) are believed to hold the key to many aspects of our lives; physically, emotionally, and mentally. There are seven major chakras and they are located along the spine starting at the tail and rising just above the head. These seven main chakras eventually connect to thousands of energy channels, also recognized as meridians.

When I first started to study the chakras many years ago I realized I had issues in all of them, and most of my chakras were blocked which created chaos in my life. Opening up these vortices has liberated me in so many ways. One of those ways was how I use to carry guilt which kept me in the victim state, the shadow of the 1st Chakra (muladhara). I could be as innocent as a new fawn and if someone pointed a finger accusing me of something that I did not do, I could still somehow feel guilty. Although, I would never confess to something I did not do and adamantly defend my innocence I would still somehow feel like I had done something wrong, otherwise why would someone accuse me of it. I did not realize when I was younger that maybe my accuser had poor judgment. And when I did make a mistake I use to beat myself up with it and carry it around with me mulling it over and over. Now when I make a mistake, I take full responsibility and address it accordingly; I then forgive myself and move on. Of course it is important to note how we arrived at making our mistakes, as this helps us to navigate away from making the same one again, but regardless of how we got there we need to take steps away from the whipping post so we can move forward and keep from getting stuck and being a victim.

Our practice this month: Inner Perspective; to seek balance from within

• Stand in mountain pose, feet hips width apart
• Soften the knees a bit so the weight rests into the feet
• Center the hips
• Lengthen the spine upright
• Lift through the back of the neck, reaching through the top of the head
• Bring the fingertips and thumbs touching together but palms apart (this is a brain exercise that connects left/right brain communications)
• Let the hands rest together down at the belly
• Feel yourself grounded through the feet and lifted at the top of the head
• Feel all of the energy channels rise up and down the spine with each deepening breath, extend the energy to rise up from the feet and beyond the top of the head
• Now close the outer eyes and find balance from within, feel your center and certainty
• CAUTION: if you start to feel dizzy or wobbly and cannot stabilize yourself with the breath, open the eyes…this takes some practice
• You can also do this from a sitting position
• Remember Forgiveness is Freedom, for self and others

Longing for h”OM”e

   

      Where did the time go? It seems as though we were just digging out of two feet of snow and now we are basking in the heat. Although time is a perception, as I have learned over and over in my metaphysical studies, it is still quite relevant in this physical dimension.  I show up on time for my classes, my meetings, and I check the time regularly to make sure I am in sync with the rest of the world around me.  But my internal clock is longing for a different rhythm, the rhythm that to me, feels like home. In my early years, home was either distressing or always changing.  I understood in the beginning of my yoga studies that if I wanted to feel grounded I needed to find home within myself.

      There is a vibrational tone in the yoga world known as “OM” and it represents the ultimate universal tone. This tone is actually; “A U M”, and when strung together they sound like “OM”.  When we make this sound, it offers the mind a focus and the sound vibrates in the body which allows us to feel, well let’s just say, incredible!  When I sit in meditation and chant “AUM” I go to a place that has no physical space or time connected to it.

     I recently returned from a three day silent meditation retreat. In those three days I was able to reconnect to that deeper space I call home for a lengthy and what I call a luxurious time. There, I am nurtured and held in the comfort of cosmological arms and sacred space, all the while feeling supported by the earth. It is in the space that I come to know true freedom and what we as yogis know as Samadhi (enlightenment), the eighth limb of yoga.

      Now I am not able to take these retreats as often as I want or need to, and rarely have the time to meditate or practice my yoga as long as I would like.  Like most of us I live in the world of time restraints but I can find my home in my “OM” and it takes but a few seconds to get there. When my life spins out of control and I start to feel intolerant or fragmented, that is my signal to go home, maybe for a moment, maybe longer. Home is where I vacation, restore, renew and long to be. So now no matter where I end up on this planet everywhere I go I know I can go h“om”e in a moment.

 The Practice;

  • Find a quiet space to sit, on the floor or a chair.
  • Or this can be done anywhere you feel confident to lift your voice and you can also recite it to yourself silently, the mind still hears it!
  • Allow yourself to draw inward on reflection, take a deep belly breath and on the exhalation let out the vowel sound of “ah”, then connect “uu” following by “mmmm”…..if this feels to awkward as it can with beginning chanters, just say “OOOOOMMMMMM” as long as the breath can extend it and repeat over and over until you feel at hOMe.
  • May you find peace in your practice and always find comfort at “OM” ~ Namaste~

Namaste

     Welcome fellow spiritual travelers. Over 15 years ago I came into yoga and meditation first out of necessity and then out of love. I found home. Home has always had an obscure meaning for me. The physical spaces and places have either been temporary or distressing.  My new home goes with me everywhere now and my practice of yoga, meditation and movement afford me the opportunity to call everywhere home. It is wherever I am.