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Archive for the ‘exercises’ Category

All the ‘good’ books, tell you to live ‘in the present moment’, which sounds like a really great idea.  But, you can’t help but live in the present moment, because that is where you always are anyway, so, it is impossible NOT to BE in the present moment in ordinary attention.

Though, sometimes, in our present moment, we are reminiscing about the past, or dreaming about the future, you have to consider that this is just a quality of the present moment.  ie, ‘in this present moment I am reflecting upon the past’.  Since this comes so naturally to us, I have a hard time labeling it as ‘bad’.

Personally, I think we have to transcend the present moment.  Sort of fly up and look down upon it from above.  From that vantage  point, you realize that it doesn’t matter what is taking place in your present moment.  There is a larger context to consider.

The only analogy I can come up with is a book.  A book has a first paragraph, and a last paragraph, and several other words and paragraphs and chapters  in between.  As you are reading the book, you are focused in on a particular chapter/paragraph/word of the story (your present moment).  But, the story already exists, in a complete form; the beginning is set, the ending is known, it is sitting there, complete on your desk.  You are just temporarily indexed into a specific section of it.

If you could zoom out and see the book on your desk, you’d know that every word is important to the paragraph, and every paragraph to the chapter, and every chapter to the book.  And, there are all sorts of crazy things happening in all of these chapters, some good, some bad… but they are all part of the overall plot.

We can’t say that any behavior in the present moment is good or bad, because we don’t yet know the whole story.  It could be, that in Chapter 3, it is necessary to reminisce about the past, so as to fill in the back story of the plot so that Chapter 4 makes sense.

The really interesting thing is that this story we are living has an infinite number of endings.  At every moment, every decision we make branches down a different logic path and a different group of possible outcomes is selected.  This is ‘Free Will’ in action.  We’re choosing our path through the story line… but we can’t make a wrong choice.  Every possibility has already been factored in… simply put, some stories will end more happily than others.

So dream of the future, or reminisce about the past, or walk through the beautiful woods and smell the air in the present moment!  But whatever you do, pay attention to the story.  That is all that is important.  Don’t drift off and live life, like it is the TV, playing something in the background that you are not really paying attention to.

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Chakras are energy centers that appear in the subtle-physical or energy body.  The word ‘chakra’ means ‘wheel’;  the luminous lines of the energy body come together in several nexus which appear like the wheel of a chariot.  Most systems of yoga recognize seven principal chakras, though there are many more.  The seven are usually referenced by their approximate relationship with the physical body, though they do not exist in the physical body.  These would be the root chakra, located at the base of the spine, the sex chakra located at the base of the genitals, the navel chakra located just below the belly button, [note: some systems substitute a chakra located above the navel in the solar plexus area for the navel chakra], the heart center located in the center of the chest, the throat center at the base of the throat near the collar bones, the third-eye center which is located between the eyebrows and slightly above, and finally, the crown center which is found above the crown of the head.

Chakras, like Yantras, are said to be a doorway into other dimensions of light and energy.  Each chakra has a specific quality of energy, and by focusing on a chakra during meditation, you draw that energy into your own energy body.  There are practices that involve focusing on all of the chakras, but for basic meditation practices, you may choose to primarily work with just 3 of the 7 chakras, namely, the navel center which has the quality of energy of willpower, the heart center which has the quality of energy of love and spiritual balance and the third-eye center which has the quality of energy of wisdom.

 

vajrayogini

Notice how the center of the necklaces align with the chakra locations

If you practice the chakra meditation described below, it is important that you give equal attention to all three of those chakras, so that you draw an equal amount of each of those various energies into your energy body.  Otherwise, you will become imbalanced.  It doesn’t do you much good to have a lot of willpower, if you don’t have the wisdom to use it.  Wisdom is hollow without love.  So, you may either focus on each of the chakras in turn during a single meditation session (always start at the lower chakras and work your way up).  Or, you can focus on one chakra during one meditation session, then the next day focus on the next and so on.

To meditate on a chakra, all you need to do is to inwardly try to feel that location in your physical body.  It helps to place a finger on the spot for a few seconds so that you can get a sense of where that spot is, then, just focus your attention there; try to feel it from the inside.  When you think you have located the spot, you can take your finger away.  If you lose the spot, put your finger back for a bit.  Eventually, you will be able to feel the spot without needing a touch.

Hold your focus on that spot as long as  you can.  If thoughts come in and out of your mind, just ignore them and bring your focus back to that spot. During the meditation, you may experience a tingling in that area, or some warmth.  If you are focusing on the heart chakra, you may experience a profound sense of love.  If you are focusing on the third-eye, you may perceive flashes of light, or visions, even with your eyes closed.  If you experience any of these sensations, just ignore them.  Don’t let them distract you from your meditation.  Just note them, but don’t try to analyze them, or you will stop meditating.

Chakra meditations are one of the most powerful forms of meditation that you can do.  If done properly, they will bring a tremendous amount of power and energy into your energy body.  Therefore, it is also important that you have your daily life together, and that you practice mindfulness, for whatever you allow to flow through your mind during the day, will be magnified many times over by this excess energy. However, if channeled in a positive direction, it can be the conduit for rapid personal growth.

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Mantra Meditation involves meditating to sound.  Mantras are sacred phrases or sometimes single syllables, usually in Sanskrit, which are chanted to summon up specific universal energies or vibrations.  Each Sanskrit syllable is said to represent one specific universal energy or frequency, with the exception of the syllable AUM or OM which is said to represent all of the universal energies combined in perfect union, or yoga.

In Hinduism, the various gods and goddesses all have their own mantras, and chanting their mantra may help summon their blessings.  The goddess Lakshmi’s mantra is:

AUM

SHRING HRING KLEENG

MAHALAKSHMI NAMAH

AUM

Lakshmi Mantra

I believe this translates to something like ‘Salutations to the One who provides abundance’.  Mantras usually begin and end with AUM (OM).  The second syllable of a mantra like this, in this case the syllable SHRING, is considered the ‘seed mantra’ and may be chanted all by itself if you prefer (and I usually do).  My two favorite mantras are AUM and SHRING (or as I learned it SRING).  You may chant either of these mantras as individual syllables.

Mantras each have a specific number of repetitions that it should be chanted. Lakshmi’s is supposed to be chanted 100,000 times.  That’s not practical in most cases.  For a meditation session lasting 20 minutes or more, you can comfortably chant 108 repetitions of the seed mantra.  The number 108 is sacred across a number of religions, and so, it is always a safe alternative to the official number of repetitions.

yak-bone-mala

If you are busy meditating and chanting, how are you supposed to count up to 108? Good question!  In many Himalayan shops or spiritual bookstores you will find strings of beads, called ‘mala beads’.  If you count the beads, you should find that there are exactly 108.  I hold the beads in my hand, with my thumb and forefinger holding the first bead next to the clasp (or the larger central bead) of the necklace. With each chant, I walk my fingers over to the next bead.  When I’ve walked all around the mala to the other clasp, I know I’ve done 108 chants.  Note, in some traditions, they are very specific about which fingers you use with the mala, how you hold your palm and so forth.  Research them if you wish, but I haven’t found them necessary for my practice.

Mantras are most effective if you vocalize them in a loud, strong voice.  However, you can chant them softly too, if you do not wish to disturb others.  If you dare not make any sound at all, you can listen to a mantra with earphones on, or, you can just repeat the mantra in your mind as a silent thought.  All of these techniques will summon the power of the mantra, though, the first two are much more powerful than the last two techniques.

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Yantra Meditation

Today I would like to introduce another meditation technique called Yantra Meditation.  A yantra is a sacred geometric diagram some of which have been around for thousands of years.  A yantra is said to be a symbolic depiction of a doorway into a higher dimension of mind.  By focusing on a yantra during meditation, you can draw some of the energy and awareness from that higher dimension into your own mind.

There are many different yantras.  Find one that seems to feel right for you.  The yantra below is my favorite.  It is known as the Sri Yantra.  It is associated with the Hindu goddess Lakshmi, who is also associated with the Heart Chakra energy center (more on those in a couple of days).

sri_yantra

To use a yantra in meditation, you should print one out on regular 8X10 photo paper, and mount it in a simple frame that you set on your meditation table.  It should be visible from where you sit to meditate, with your eyes just directed downward slightly; so, just below eye level.  With this particular yantra, you want to make sure that the central triangle is pointing downwards.  Then, you should sit with your eyes open, close enough to the diagram, that it fills most of your vision, including your peripheral vision.  Stare at the dot, or bindi, in the very center, but relax your gaze somewhat so that you can take in the whole diagram.  However, it is important to keep your gaze directed at the dot in the center.  Don’t lose that!  You can blink whenever necessary, but try to keep your gaze fixed as long as you can.

As you meditate, you may notice slight shifts in your visual perception.  The lines of the diagram may appear to move around, the colors may get very intense, or change into golden hues.  These are just indications that you are moving through higher dimensions of mind.  You are activating your ‘second sight’, your ability to see in other non-physical dimensions.  If you see such phenomena, don’t let them distract you.  They can be interesting, but just notice them and don’t analyze them, otherwise, you will stop meditating.

Meditate on the yantra for as long as your normal meditation period.  For beginners, you may find meditating for 15 – 20 minutes to be a good period of time.  With experience, you may move up to 30 minutes, 45 minutes, and eventually one hour. There is no need to meditate longer than an hour, unless you are just having a really great time!

Yantra meditations are very powerful, as they help you access energy from higher dimensions.  They are also good because they are one of the few meditation exercises where you keep your eyes open.  Many people start to drift off to sleep if they meditate with their eyes closed, so, this is a good technique for those people to practice, as it really forces you to keep your focus and to stay awake!

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I’ve talked a lot about meditation in general, but I haven’t given any specific exercises.  Over the next couple of posts, I’d like to cover some of the meditation techniques that I’ve found useful over the years.  Some techniques can be quite elaborate, but these are very simple; simple and yet very powerful.

Today I’d like to introduce an easy breathing meditation technique.  In meditation, first of all, our objective is to stop all thought.  It would be nice if we could flick a switch and just turn off all thought, but it can be pretty difficult to do, especially in the beginning.  So, one technique is to focus on one thing to the exclusion of everything else.  If you focus on one thing intensely, you push all the other thoughts out of your mind.  In this exercise, all we’re going to focus on is the inhalation and exhalation of our breath.  OK, maybe two things, we’re also going to count (or is that three things?).

Sit up with your back straight.  You can sit in a chair, or on a cushion on the floor, whatever feels most comfortable to you, just as long as your spine is very straight. Close your eyes, and breathe in slowly while counting up to 3 (1-2-3 in equal beats), then hold your breath for a beat, then exhale while counting to 3 again, hold for a beat and repeat.  So, you are taking slow breaths in, and exhaling slow breaths out.  But the counting is the most important part, because we want to focus on taking measured breaths.

sharon-bareket-girl-with-closed-eyes1

When you’re counting, it is very hard to be thinking about other things, because if you do, you’ll find you start to lose count.  Also, when you are focused on your breathing, your breath is such a vital part of living, that your whole body gets involved, so, this technique captures your complete attention very easily.  Do this technique for 10-15 minutes.  If you feel light-headed at any point, then you can stop, or just resume your normal breathing for a few minutes… there aren’t any penalties if you don’t do it perfectly!

I like this technique because you can do it anywhere; on the bus, at the DMV, sitting in the waiting room for a job interview.  It’s OK to keep your eyes open if you don’t want to let on what you’re doing.  If you do it when you are nervous, it can really help to calm you down, as one of the first things that happens when we get nervous is that our breathing becomes fast and irregular.  Slowing it down and making it perfectly regular helps to calm our nerves and make our mind clear.  So, you can do better on that audition!

There are many many other breathing meditations, in fact, there is a whole branch of yoga devoted to breathing exercises called Kriya Yoga.  But this was just a simple breathing exercise to get you started in meditation.

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If you want to make some interesting discoveries about your eating habits, you might consider fasting.

What I’ve learned is that most of the time, the feeling of being hungry, is a conditioned response. I get hungry at certain times of the day, because that is when I’m used to eating, not because my stomach is empty or my body needs the food.

I’ve also learned that many food urges are really not my own, they are psychic perceptions I’m picking up from the people around me. I’ll be hard at work in the office, in the middle of a two week fast, when suddenly I get a wild craving for a burger (when I hadn’t eaten beef for the previous few years), and then the guy in the next cubical announces he’s going for lunch at the burger joint down the street and does anybody want to join him?

Fatburger-with-Cheese

Fasting forces you to use your willpower to overcome the urge to eat. And, when you do resist, your willpower gets stronger and stronger. The longer you fast, the purer your energy becomes, and you feel much lighter. Well, maybe several pounds lighter, but light-er in spirit as well.

If you are new to fasting, I’d suggest starting out with a 3 day fast. The first day of a fast, you will be very hungry and a little on edge. The second day of a fast, you will have no energy, want to sleep a lot, and perhaps have a persistent headache. The third day of your fast, you will finally start to feel great. To fast for any less than 3 days, you’ll only be getting to the bad days, not the good. If you enjoy your 3 day fast, try a one week fast the next time, and perhaps a two week fast the next time after that. It’s not really necessary to go beyond a two week fast, though, it can be fun to see how far you can take it.

There are those who will fast on a regular basis, but I will only fast once every six months to one year.  It can be a shock to your system, and I’m not sure if frequent shocks to your system is very healthful.

Some people are very strict about their fasts, allowing water only. But I’ve found that I can get all of the beneficial effects of a fast (those that I care about at least) even if I allow myself juice, or coffee, or even a little wine daily. And, on prolonged fasts, some protein powder mixed in juice will help ward off dizzy spells.

Things you can expect to experience during your fast:  You will experience some irritable bowels for the first day or so until your digestive tract gets used to the lack of solid material.  Then, you may not have any regular BMs for the next several days.  You may start off with a persistent headache, but that will go away as soon as you adjust to your new lower blood sugar level (juice can help elevate your blood sugar level).  You can expect your breath and your body odor to become quite wretched, as your body starts to metabolize your body fat, and release ketone bodies (the principal ingredient in acetone).  You will also feel various aches and pains as the metabolized fat releases other toxins into your system that have been bound up within the fat cells.

On the positive side, your vibratory energy rate will speed up tremendously, which will leave you feeling ecstatic at times, and promote very high meditations.  You should be able to feel your chakra energy centers more clearly, as well as having clearer psychic perceptions.  Your sense of smell will become quite acute, and you will be able to smell what others are eating from great distances.  While it may make you hungry, and give you the urge to eat, it also satisfies you in some way, and makes you feel like you just could possibly survive on the heavenly scent of food alone.

Croissant

When you are ready to break your fast  (hey, that’s what breakfast originally meant!), don’t gorge yourself.  Start off slow, with a small meal of green leafy vegetables, and at succeeding meals, work into more of your normal eating pattern.  This is also a good time to change your diet.  If you want to give up red meat, or become vegetarian, or vegan or become a full-fledged carnivore, coming off of a fast is a good time to do so, as your willpower will be at an all-time-high, and your body is ready for anything.

Only try fasting if you are in relatively good physical health.  People who have to closely monitor their blood sugar level should not attempt fasting, nor should those with cardiac problems, as the changes in blood chemistry during the fasting process is dramatic.

Through fasting, you will learn that many of your behaviors are simply conditioned responses, habits, life on cruise control.  And you can gain the willpower necessary to suppress many urges and gain complete conscious control over all aspects of your life, not just those associated with diet.

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Thoughts

We have a lot of thoughts rattling around in our heads, but did you know that not all of them are your own?  You are psychic whether you are aware of the fact or not.  And, you’re picking up thoughts from the people in your close physical proximity, and from people you are emotionally connected to.  Those connections can be positive – people you love or admire, or negative – people you dislike or who frighten or intimidate you.  We are used to thinking that our thoughts are our own, and so, when a thought pops into our head, we don’t question where it came from, we just accept that it came from some corner of our mind.  This can be quite upsetting, if it’s some weird or dark thought.

If you practice meditation, your own thoughts get quieter, so, thoughts you pick up from others are more obvious.  You could say that you become more aware of your psychic perceptions.  Here’s a true story to illustrate this.

I was living in Boston and was having lunch in the gardens around Copley Square.  I took a little time to meditate, and I had a very high meditation.  When I was finished, I was in a beautiful state of mind, happy and carefree.  It was payday, and I needed to deposit my check before the deposit cutoff time, so it would be credited that day, so I headed for the bank.

copley_square

The line was long, and there was only one teller, but I didn’t care.  I was in such a happy state of mind, I didn’t mind at all.  Then, a construction worker came in and stood in line behind me.  His vibratory energy was pretty terrible.  He’d probably had a 3 beer lunch and he was in a real hurry to deposit his own paycheck.  The line wasn’t moving fast enough for him, so, he would inch up behind me to where he was nearly touching me.  I would inch forward so that I would pick up less of his energy, and then he would inch forward again.  It was pretty painful, and I could feel all the beautiful energy I’d picked up from my meditation draining away.

construction_guy

Finally, I was at the front of the line, but the woman who went before me had numerous transactions and was taking a long time at the teller’s window.  The guy behind me was getting more and more angry as the minutes ticked away.  At one point, it looked like she was finished and started to step away, but then she remembered one more thing she meant to do, and stepped back.  When she did this I had this thought ‘YOU F’ING C[word]’.  Now, I grew up in a household where my father cussed constantly.  So, I’ve heard those words before, and possibly even said them in jest, but I was shocked that I had let my beautiful consciousness slip so far, so fast, that I could think such a thing with real anger behind it.

Then, from behind me, the construction worker uttered under his breath (but loud enough for the woman to hear) ‘YOU F’ING C[word]’.  Again, I was shocked, but relieved to realize that it hadn’t been my thought after all, but it had passed through my mind as clear as a bell.

If you are curious about how many of your thoughts aren’t your own, here is a little technique.  On an ordinary day, notice how much you are thinking, and what types of things you are thinking about.  Then, when you have a day off, go out into the wilderness, preferably somewhere where not very many people go, somewhere off the beaten path, find a place to sit and just hang out there for a while.  Then, take note of how much you are thinking, and what types of things you are thinking about.  I’ll bet you find you are thinking many less thoughts, and the thoughts you do have will be happier and more positive.  Those are your own true thoughts.

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