Meditation and the Inward Movement: Nerve Relief and Re-wiring

What is the process of moving towards meditation?

I  say towards, because meditation is an out of body experience which you can not perform. Meditation infers that there is no performer! I suppose it’s easier to say and we all love that, but to say “I meditate”, unless your speaking from the cosmic endless ocean of pure concsciousness-bliss, is just incorrect. You can however prepare yourself for this divinely graced presence by meditation practice. Imagine it’s like going through all the rooms in the gigantic house-of-your-being, slowly you dim the lights and turn off things as you make your way inwards. Walking more quietly and slowly after each light is turned off, you might stub your toe on some left out thought you thought you had put away. Pick it up mindfully. Feel it in your hands and contemplate it’s meaning or use in your life. If it has merit or a place in your heart, place it on a shelf for later. If it’s just chatter or undesired, drop it without remorse into the bin. Going further into your house, you find rooms you may not have known even existed. However, they feel more familiar than any of the previous rooms once you’re in there. You decide to sit down in one. As you sit and become still, you realize you can feel the entire house you’ve already gone through. There it is, perhaps gently vibrating in your awareness. Now, all there is to do is look at the awareness…. of your awareness…. of awarenessthat………….hey! ……this is just an article, snap out of it!

Meditation begins with a quiet place where we can slowly withdraw from activity and stimulation. We should definitely be grateful if we have a handy place like that in our lives. For most people it’s hard to find the ideal spot. Don’t sweat it. Just locate or simulate the most cave like setting you can manage! The whole idea of the cave is that it’s just a hole in a rock with nothing going on in there. You need to cut out the stimulation so you can look and listen internally. It makes pratyahara, sense withdraw, a lot more simple. If you can’t really find such a place conveniently, consider somewhere with consistency in the incoming stimulation.Maybe the non-disruptive sounds of nature.

Another example, I live in Bangkok in a condo. I practice meditation on the roof, 24 stories up. From up there, the bustle of the city sounds mostly distant and homogenous. None of the sounds stand out too drastically. Ideally if there aren’t any buck-wild children around the pool I’ll also practice there. Actually, if I’ve just done a lot of invigorating asana I’ll practice meditation afterwards there because I feel so centered, even if there are all kinds of kids splashing and cahooting. They usually become unusually quiet if they notice me put my head on my feet in Kapotasana anyway.Plus, I think some of them really get it…

Another option you could consider that I just read about is quite extreme. Put on some headphones with static white noise, tape half a ping pong ball over each eye, then put a red light on in front of you. These filters over your senses will eventually become completely  meaningless to your brain and you will be totally internalized. The only problem is you might start to hallucinate wildly after about 30 minutes. Here’s a reasonable compromise…

…obviously for much shorter intervals.

So it’s true, you don’t have to actually sit somewhere quiet for that withdraw. But having a foundational asana and pranayama practice helps to hone your focus a little more close to home. People who are good at relaxing, somewhere quiet, ideally in nature, are doing this all the time too. If it’s somewhere especially peaceful (again, nature) you can even be engaged in simple activity and get a sense of it. It’s a skill of sorts to be able to filter out overload. This is needed from time to time to refresh ourselves and it’s the first step towards meditation. That withdraw however,  can be much more recuperating and the experience much more interesting if we leave out the activity.

So, you’re in your spot, your withdrawn, my next post will be about meditation poses, what next? Watch your breath. If you’re practicing meditation there’s no need to change your breath. Just be still, calm, and watch your breath. Watch the spaces between your breath. Watch the feeling in the spaces between your breaths. All the while, feel everything relaxing and slowing down. Your heart rate slows down. Your mind slows down. Time slows down. Like in the metaphor of the house-of-being if you come across a thought don’t rush yourself to cast it out. Let it be there as a phenomenon. Picture it as an event or energetic happening. If it strikes a chord with you emotionally take consideration to know your genuine feelings and have resolution with the subject before letting it go. Some thoughts come simply as flashes of trivial memories, mostly inconsequential, some come with deep personal meanings and present a great opportunity for establishing a new relationship with that particular subject.

This process of moving inward, let’s you encounter more consciously your usually subconscious behavioral patterns. But it’s still only just on the verge of conscious…initially….I can’t even say what kind of stuff might be waiting for you in there; such fleetingly indescribable whisps of experience, energetic epiphany, maybe even completely disappearing for an instant. Sounds epic right? Well if you don’t experience any of that it’s fine. Don’t give up because like the ashtangi’s love to say “practice and all is coming.”

The practical level of meditation practice is always still there. It’s a great tool. Instead of bang-crashing all around your nervous system with the thought train express, processing the endless bits of information of a day, and reacting to the explosions, bosses getting the cramps, or a damned paper cut…Just sit down sometimes… survey the network of your nearly impossibly miraculous vessel of life in a chilled out way. The more you come here, to your  place inside yourself, perhaps an even sacred place, the more your innate intelligence, beyond the level of your thinking mind, will trim all the hodgepodge non-sense on which you don’t need to be wasting your vital nerve force. And, when you come back from meditation practice you’ll have a new and easier way to be true to you, more streamlined, high-def, and totally astrally experienced.

Tips for Meditation Practice

1. Be comfortable. It’s not going to work if you’re struggling to just be in your body. Upright is preferable to laying down for staying alert. Use big cushions or even one of those cool super space age rubber balls. Actually, you’ll probably have too much fun rolling around and bouncing on it. If you can’t sit upright comfortably for more than a minute lay down for now and practice asana!

2. Relax your eyes and tongue especially. Thoughts are often stimulated by movements of these areas that carry and convey so much information.

3. Watch your breath.

4. Trust yourself! You don’t have to “know” what to do. Sometimes there is a lot of stuff to process before you can come to the clearing of peacefulness.


Namaste.

George Anthony

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Filed under Breathing, Health, Meditation, Practice, Practice Advise, Resting, Yoga

Teaching Tips for Yoga Teachers 1

These tips could be applied to many aspects of life I think.

1. Teach with candor. Be frank and honest about yourself and share your experiences, even if that experience is nervousness. Most people can already tell how you are feeling by observing you. If the nervous teacher comes right out and says “Well, ok, I’m feeling nervous but…” they’ll make a connection with people who can identify with that feeling (which is most people)  and they’ll dispay confidence for being able to admit it.

2. When you’re sure all of your students are adept(and keep checking anyway!) with a certain flow of practice, a warm up if you will, teach with unrelenting focus and energy. Don’t let them, or you, slip off into some tangent. This is to get everyone established in the streaming focus that is the paradigm of many yoga practices. Speak rhythmically, directly, and concisely with a encouraging power in your voice. Keep coming back to the same points. In my case it’s usually, bandha, ujjayi breathing, and describing the sensations of deep, empowering breath.

3. Lighten up!  Let the play begin. Teach more casually and be open to make humorous comments or observations. Begin to teach more rather than conduct like in #2. This means be aware of the skills of the people in the room and work on what you can help them achieve or create. Break things down, give more time for detailed demonstrations, even using the students as models for one another while you do an adjustment to show how to align one’s body in a particular Asana.

4. Keep a good pace until the end and then let everything drop into relaxation. Slow down your voice  and lower it’s pitch. Give enough time for relaxation. Savasana should be proportionate to the amount of work and time you spent working. In a light or short class 5-7 minutes is adequate. After a long or challenging class, up to 10 minutes. Savasana should not be too long, otherwise the nerves will become dulled. It should not be too short or the body will not be refreshed or adapt to the structural changes from the practice.

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Volunteering at Hub Sai Dek to Help Bangkok’s Street Children

Over the weekend my friend Machima, someone with whom I have a fun connection and easy time communicating, came in to Bangkok to have a meeting with someone about improving services at the volunteer organization, Children of the Forest. She assists with directing projects there for refugee children in Sangklaburi, Thailand. She started a link between her organization and the one in Bangkok which she visited…Hub Sai Dek, located in Hua Lamphong Train Station area, that does similar work for Bangkok’s street children. Both organizations provide food and medical services, a safe environment, and lots of activities, teachers, and role models to inspire the kids and develop their skills and passion for living a fulfilling life.

Machima is also a yoga teacher(from the same year course at Yoga Elements as me) and said she knew someone high energy enough and who might be willing to come and teach the kids Yoga…and she didn’t mean David Swenson(as cool as that would be). So, you know, the next day I was down at the Hub, meeting with one of the coordinators, Oo, meeting the kids(and later break dancing with them),  watching the magician that was performing that afternoon, and making arrangement to come teach the kids Yoga.

The Hub is looking for all kinds of teachers and volunteers to help with their good karma-yoga work. I’ll be teaching just twice a week there starting soon and look forward to seeing how I can adapt yoga practices to these kids so they can find a new way to appreciate their bodies, and with some partner exercises, each other with team work and trust. If you’re in Bangkok area and also want to offer your services please check out their website and contact them.

Namaste.

George Anthony

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Filed under ไทย, Bangkok, Journal, Karma, Yoga

Tadasana or Samasthiti – Mountain Pose and Standing in Balance

Mountain pose is often touted as the prime posture for experiencing the inherent poise of properly performed Asana. What is poise, first? We should perhaps consider. Poise comes when we feel present in every fiber of our being. It feels like all your inner resources are right there at your beck and whim and you can play it as cool as having an ace in the hole. Physically, it is feeling balanced and at ease to deftly move in any direction.

Truth is, lately I think about mountain pose or “the upright standing posture” of people more often outside of the yoga class. I watch how people stand everywhere. I look inside them, and see their spine.

When we stand tall our bodies naturally moves towards balance. This means that all of our postural muscles are working with the appropriate weight load and don’t become stressed. All of our vertebrae, joints, and organs come close to an internal stasis, of having equal pressure.

The lungs also move towards this stasis and breath is distributed evenly to and from all portions of the lungs. I don’t need to cite all the benefits this has for your metabolism, immunity, mental health, etc.

So why does it seem many people slouch, have bad posture, or curl over with age? They are being pulled away from their center in one way or another. Physical objects like our gadgets pull us in, social confrontations pull us to a side so we feel stronger to move in a certain feeling or direction, and gravity pulls us down. It is also accepted that many peoples’ posture is a result of cultural conditioning. We hold ourselves the way we see other people do. All the more important for us than to be a good role models!  To come back to center takes recognition, some concentration, and sometimes  more. Keep going through the process. Be aware. Recognize. Re-adjust. Notice what it feels like to be in your balance physically. Consider what it means to be in emotional and intra-personal balance. Can you still feel poise when someone is creating invasive or reactive energies.  When your in balance does it seem like there is a bigger world, more energy, or a better feeling about yourself? Keep doing it and make yourself new. This process of coming back to your physical balance center with the spine is the symbolic representation of bringing your self back to the present moment in which lay your real work and pleasure of discovering a new manifestation of your eternal soul.

Soo….to a group of readers who are probably very familiar with how to practice mountain pose, I lead you to my presentation now!

Mountain Pose – How to Stand Tall

A lot of people make a big deal out of feet in this pose. And as they should, the base affects the entire structure. We can spread our weight evenly on our feet in this pose easily. Place the feet so the big toes are touching side by side. Your heels may be slightly apart or touching. Put them in the place that makes you feel balanced in the center of your heel and you can put weight into the balls of your big toe and pinky toe.

You can also try placing the heels to the position that makes your legs face straight forward. Pay attention to the relationship of alignment from your toes, to your knees and upper thighs.When your feet are set right, your ankle joints should feel centered, or even hollow. When you are setting your feet it’s also good to lift and spread your toes as high as you can to wake up muscles and broaden your base for greater  balance. If you are set in the feet but your knees seem rotated inwards or outward it may mean you need to develop balance in hip and thigh muscles.

With your alignment set you can now create the synergistic action of engaging the quadriceps to lift the knees and push down through the axis of your legs to “root in” to your feet. This kind of synergistic action should be created in all standing poses and in a similar way, into any part of your body that touches the ground to create lift in another part or vice versa. This makes mountain pose a model for proper asana practice.  At the same time let the lower back lengthen down through the tailbone towards the floor and the pubic bone to lift slightly upwards, if at all. Here you should essentially be making the bowl of your pelvis level with the earth. All of these muscle contractions should be done to create a sense of poise but can also be engaged stronger on exhales to give you a therapeutic alignment “reset” if you will.

While you were doing all that you were probably already beginning to feel your posture growing taller. When you practice focus on the crown of your head and the sensation of being perfectly centered. You may feel slight sways in your posture. Don’t fight them, just feel where the center is, and increase your sensitivity and with practice you’ll stay there more easily. Let your breath also guide you in this. Observing the dimensions of your breath as it changes inside of you is powerful way to learn about your body and your balance. As for arms… I always say arms are for expressing so explore what feels right for your arms. I like to gently turn my palms forward to open the chest for breathing. Keep your head level and your face calm.

To me, mountain pose, and good posture in general, is as if a straight line is passing through the center of my head, the center of my hips, and the center of the earth. My body is soft and open, the spine feels comfortably suspended in the fluids and tissues of the body. I feel equally connected to the earth, aware of space all around me, and a little something extra special pulling me upwards and ever closer to my balance wth the center.

Namaste.

George Anthony

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Filed under Alignment, anatomy, Asana, Breathing, Meditation, Practice, Yoga

The Five Yama of Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga

The five moral ethics of Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga are the absolute foundation of yoga practice for people from all walks of life. Why? Because when you adhere to them your mind is a guilt free, easy going place that is ready to really focus on being and creating, two main qualities of nature. The concepts are simple and familiar and the more you practice them the more clearly the connection between behavior, beliefs, and experience stands out.

The 5 Yama

1. Ahimsa – Non-Violence

We could actually call it a day right after this one. It pretty much covers everything. Violence doesn’t work for spiritual development in three ways as I see it. First, violence is traumatic for humans as animals, and as psyches. The fear generated by it causes our energy to recoil into a dense form for self preservation, which can be considered the ego. This can happen to both parties involved. Then there is the guilt which can come, trapping us in past memories which feed belief structures that negate our being through association to the event. If that doesn’t happen, we trick ourselves into becoming “normalized” to violence and essentially numbing ourselves in our hearts. Certainly not helpful for becoming more compassionate and feeling how everything is connected. By the way, many of these Sanskrit words, when starting with an “a”, denote the opposite meaning of the following word. For example… “Himsa = violence” “Ahimsa = non-violence” Practice ahimsa with others and with your self in both your actions and mind. I think most of you reading are probably pretty peaceful outwardly but may, like I, have occasional mental slip ups. A good trick to remember is when you do something that could be considered “harmful” if your being waaay to anal, I mean like, thinking you didn’t take care of yourself well enough… just forgive yourself and practice ahimsa in your mind. No sense in beating yourself up when you can be becoming more resolute in your peacefulness right now! Another method is “Do and think nice things, or don’t do and think any things at all.” Those who practice Ahimsa at a high degree carry an influence of peacefulness around them, seemingly disarming all bad energies they encounter.

2. Satya – Upholding Truth

I once read that young children telling lies indicated a high level of intelligence. It does in a sense. There is much mental power in being able to creatively construe non-facts to manipulate others. However it falls far shy of a greater intelligence in observing the phenomenal truth of reality and tailoring yourself to sit peacefully with it and still exercise being a creative agent of the universe. That is the greatest kind of intelligence in my book; generating pure creativity out of your experience of the truth. When you practice upholding the truth in what you say, the things you do, keeping the commitments you make, or being honest about your own sensations you feel much more connected with your reality. You also don’t have some web of mess to keep hidden. Those who practice asteya to a high degree become creative agents, generating truth to be witnessed in new forms and helping those around us see ourselves.

3. Asteya – No Stealing

Stealing sets us up for a few nasty possible self identifications. The first is that we don’t have something we need and that the best way to get it is at someone else’ loss. Like violence it also sets us up for a forked road with neither choice leading to a good outcome. We can either become consumed with guilt over what we did or desensitize ourselves to the suffering of others, closing off again. We have to recognize that sympathy is an innate human skill, and when we don’t allow ourselves to feel that we are actually creating a subtle tendency to diminish ourselves. What makes stealing, stealing? Someone else’s loss. If you are using their available material without actually taking it from them(our digital age) and making something genuinely new, then this is inspired creativity and the universe smiles upon it.

4. Aparigraha – No Acquisitiveness

Most of us don’t need so much. Not really. Keeping a small and humble lot of possessions helps us to remain free of being overly attached to something that will not last. Aparigraha is also about overcoming the belief that you need “x” to be happy or more fulfilled. This one is to be practiced with attitude more than anything. Focus on the belief that you have everything you need, and that everything you acquire is for giving to others. 🙂

5. Brahmacharya – Taming Energies

So my translation on this one is a little atypical.(hey, the “a” made the opposite in an English word too!) The literal translation is something like “walking with God” or “the path of unity consciousness”. To be on such a plane of awareness to walk in that space requires a great deal of energy and devotion. So, brahmacharya is all about controlling and conducting your energies so you are always moving towards the divine. Some traditionalists insist this means abstaining from sex, indulgent behaviors and emotions, and so on, so that we may reserve energy for our spiritual practices and avoid the attachments and roller coaster ride of it all. Personally, I view the appropriate practice of brahmacharya to be highly, HIGHLY individualized in nature. Regarding sex for instance, I believe in a more Taoist philosophy, that practicing sexual prowess for most of our lives in an honest and supporting relationship aids spiritual development as well. Of course there may be a time or “attainment” in which you need no other relationship than the one you have with the divine…you’ll know what feels right. 🙂


Namaste.

George Anthony

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Filed under Philosophy, Spiritual Awareness, Yoga

Abdominal Breathing for good Yoga sleep

Everyone dreams of a good night’s sleep. You can fall asleep in such a way that your entire night’s rest is likely to be deeper and more restorative to your body and mind.

Going to bed still feeling fresh is the first step. A nice cool shower or even just washing your face and brushing your teeth is perfect. Then laying down on your back for some deep breathing to “power down” for a peaceful night.

Separate your feet and turn you palms up let your whole body become still and relaxed. Begin to breath slowly yet deeply, deeply into your abdomen allowing it to rise and fall. You can also gently engage the glottis, in your throat, for the first few minutes to create a quiet whisper sensation, usually called ujjayi by yoga teachers, that causes the heart rate to slow down and blood pressure to decrease. The sensation of your own breath and the reaction of the body and mind will guide you in tailoring the rhythm and depth of each breath’s movement…but breath out slowly until it just softly runs out to turn off your mind and put your body into a deep rest.  After just a few minutes you might feel a big difference and decide to roll onto your side or end up just falling asleep on your back.

This post inspired by Aoy, a motivational yoga teacher and health coach, and her status on FB tonight…

“บางทีเราก็เหนื่อยแบบไม่รู้ตัว ทุกคนรักษาสุขภาพนะคะ อย่าหักโหมมากไป ยังมีอะไรๆรอเราอยู่พรุ่งนี้อีกเยอะเลย!

“Sometimes we don’t even realize that we are already tired so everybody please take good care of your health. Don’t push yourself too much. So many things are still waiting for us tomorrow!”
Time for my own deep rest, good night.
George Anthony

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Filed under Breathing, Health, Resting, Sleep, Yoga

Practice – Streaming awareness in our modern physical Yoga culture

That Present Feeling…

What makes yoga practice, yoga practice?It is the consistency of streaming your awareness to a simple aspect of your existence.  It doesn’t matter what it is, just that it is simple. What is streaming awareness? Take a deep breath in and just experience it, let all else fade away. Feel the space you change in your lungs, the movements through your body, and the immediate changes in your physiology. That’s it. Now, breath out slowly and feel the relaxation and release, the quiet mind. It’s a continuous flowing experience,  and most importantly, your perspective becomes centered and calm. This is why people practice Yoga, to touch in with the spiritual home. But it doesn’t have to be breathing. That just happens to be a really easy way. It’s just about streaming awareness.

The breath is this simple and profound magic door to understand this kind of awareness. You can enter this state without any particular technique but most people find they need time with the techniques first to tune in with it. The breath works so well.  However, if your mind is agitated the stream might slip and skip around into different experiences. So what do we do? Well…I think I know what you first thought was Yoga, and indeed it is.

Making an Exercise a Yoga Practice

It’s such a genius idea really. If you move consciously your awareness gets “anchored” in the body and keeping that stream becomes easy. You’re breath and you’re body are so close, intertwined, so do it while breathing consciously to feel their relationship and get tuned in spiritually.This is how you let your mind rest and drop off the unnecessary clutter.

Those that bash on teachers that make yoga classes like a fitness regime or ego show, and all the other problems that cropped up with the globalization and subsequent modernization of Yoga should really start being pro-active entities that make sure everyone who attends yoga classes  like ones in the picture above or teaches yoga remember the following ideas!

Tips for classes in the Physical Yoga culture

1.     The practice is streaming awareness. The most simple way to do this is continuously observe the sensations of your breath and body. If you’re having thoughts or internal chatter and judgements you’re not practicing!

2.     If you’re a teacher, don’t over complicate things! You can lead people into lots of interesting experiences beyond breath and body but remember…it’s streaming awareness, contiguous. Link from the breath to where you want to take them or even use metaphors that describe the body in different ways for a fresh experience, like a new rivulet entering the growing stream. Keep everything connected.

3.     Once you get familiar with the feeling of streaming awareness you’ll be able to notice and sustain it easily. Again, conscious breathing is always an easy way back to it but even more simply, find yourself being the observer of your life, not the actor. Then you are always just watching the show. 🙂

Namaste

~George Anthony

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Filed under Breathing, Philosophy, Practice, Practice Advise, Spiritual Awareness, Teaching Advice, Yoga