Posts Tagged ‘meditation’
It was Friday morning yoga class, the day after Thanksgiving. We were doing some poses on the wall when someone started to laugh. The woman next to her laughed. I don’t know what the joke was about but the more they tried to suppress their laughter, the harder it was for them to stop. Eventually, the whole class start bursting into spontaneous laughter. Looking back, it reminded me of the time I was taking a hip opening class and we all started bursting into tears.
The deep, yoga breathing makes our emotions more intense because we are connecting with ourselves on a deeper level. We are not blocking what comes out. Yoga breathing makes us laugh hardier and sob harder. It makes us tune into who we are, where we are blocked, where we are hurt, where we are strong and where we are happy. Our emotions are a sign of us dealing with it and letting go.
That Friday, the joy of yoga filled the room. Is it a coincidence that this happened the day after Thanksgiving? During Wenesday’s class, the day before Thanksgiving, we practiced breathing in everything we were grateful for and breathing out all of our gratitude. This positive meditation recycled the feeling of joy deep within us which positively charged our energy. It is practically impossible to be unhappy while breathing in everything we are grateful for.
Often, people approach their health from a place of poverty. We tell ourselves we must eat right and exercise because we are not enough. We are not skinny enough, strong enough or beautiful enough. We approach our practice from a place of desperation rather than a place of gratitude. We make our practice into a chore that we must push through. However, when we approach our practice from a place of gratitude, we find a great rush of positive energy that moves us effortlessly. If we approach our practice with appreciation that we can move at all–that we have the resources to even get on a mat and do something–that joy creates passionate momentum but it can’t be done until we accept and love who we are.
I have written a couple of posts about the yoga of letting go, regarding the suffering that sometimes comes with facing our pain. You can read them here:
Joy is a letting go as well. It is a letting go of our obsession with what we don’t have. It is a letting go of an attitude that focuses on emptiness and depression. The sheer act of standing straight and thinking of something we enjoy creates energy and confidence. Bring your hands close together, close enough to feel the biolelecctric energy emanating from your palms. The yogis call this energy “prana”. Practitioners of chi kung and kung fu call it “chi” but it is spelled different ways. You may find that if you think of something that saddens you, the energy diminishes. If you think of something you love, something you are grateful for, you will feel a surge of heat or electricity. Joyful and healing hormones fill the body with life supporting energy.
Try this the next time you come to workout, do yoga or when you have a moment to yourself. Think of everything you are grateful for as you inhale. Recycle that joy inside you and breath out all the gratitude. Notice how this changes your energy or mood.
Happy Holidays everyone. Thank you for your stories and for sharing your journey with me. Thank you for the magic of your presence. Thank you for being amazing and inspirational.
For more outpouring of gratitude, click here:
A popular study done by David Libet showed that when we make a decision to move, unconscious parts of the brain are activated before we even make a decision. This tells us that most of our actions are not determined by our rational conscious mind, but by our subconscious. Does this mean that we don’t have a choice over our actions? Is everything predetermined? This study brought back the age old question, do we have free will?
I wouldn’t jump on the determinism band wagon right away. As a personal trainer, I have learned that if a person doesn’t believe in their ability to change, they have nothing to motivate them. A large study in New Zealand showed that people who believed in their own free will were much more likely to be successful in any undertaking.
The truth is, much of what we do is determined by our subconscious, but if we force ourselves to be aware, it becomes conscious. For example, some clients come to me with incorrect muscle movements. For any number of reasons, they move in ways that can be harmful to their bodies. While they may not be aware of this, something in their subconscious makes them think it is okay to let’s say, hunch their shoulders while doing a deltoid lift. When I try to correct them, their first reaction is to say, “This is the way I am. I can’t change.” Unfortunately, being content with this line of thinking will lead to shoulder impingements later on in life. I know many older adults who have shoulder issues because they have been doing exercises wrong for so many years.
When a person trains with me for a few more weeks and I make them concentrate on ways to use the correct muscles so they can change their incorrect and dangerous movements, they succeed in moving a different way. With practice, they start subconsciously moving the correct way. This proves that even subconscious movements can be changed to conscious movements if we apply awareness. Once we do this, we change our subconscious habits. This is good because we can change negative habits that sabotage our health into positive ones that feed our health. We can change our habits.
Even the act of breathing, once thought of as an involuntary movement can be made into a conscious movement. The yogis have proven that control of the breath can even give them the power to change their own heart rate and blood pressure.
More on breathing here:
The other day, I was listening to a lecture by Bruce Lipton on epigenetics. This is a new science that explores how our genes react to our environment. For example, if we feed our cells certain foods, they either become healthy or intoxicated. How we breathe, move and think greatly affects our health and our genes. Many times, it is our attitudes and perceptions that make us healthy or unhealthy and we can see this when we look at how stress affects our body.
Stress is caused by perceived fear. When we are afraid, our body secretes hormones that cause us to fight or run from the danger. All the blood in the body is rushed to our arms and legs for survival purposes. The body takes blood away from digestive organs and the organs that are used to fight disease. While this helps us survive a dangerous environment where predators lurk in every corner, our body was never meant to be stressed on an ongoing basis. Taking blood away from other functions makes our immune system weak and more susceptible to all diseases. It also takes blood away from rational parts of the brain and puts it into more primitive parts of the brain, lowering our I.Q. Stress seems to be a catch term in our modern day society and people are constantly complaining about it.
People perceive dangers in every corner. Is there someone at your job who rubs you the wrong way? Does she bring you stress? If we think of her as an evil witch who can take away our personal power just by looking at us, then yes, she will. She will make our stress hormones release every time we see her, markedly lowering our immune system. But if we realize that she is just human and has no power to hurt us just by saying the wrong things, then we won’t be stressed. We can brush off her attitude and move on with our lives. So, our perceptions have a great influence on our health.
We may not be consciously aware of the reasoning behind our perception. Perhaps we were abused by a family member who looked like her or said the same things that the person who rubs us the wrong way does. Maybe we were bullied by a kid that said the same things she did and whenever we hear her words, we want to run or fight. Subconsciously we see her as a threat and become stressed by her even if we don’t want to. Unfortunately, many people can’t help the way they react in life because of how they were conditioned growing up. People ask themselves, why can’t I change my situation? Why can’t I stop the negative thoughts in my mind? Why can’t I end my addiction to food, drugs, television or video games? The reason is because they are subconscious reactions to how we were taught to perceive the world. We never made a conscious choice to be stressed, overweight, addicted or weak in the wrong muscles. We are just reacting to our environment.
This is where awareness comes in. If we can end the chatter in our minds that is nothing but a subconscious recording of how we were conditioned to act in life, we can start to consciously make changes. Yoga teaches us to still the mind and bring awareness to what we are doing right here and now. Even doing physical yoga poses, and teaching ourselves to bring awareness to how we feel in the poses teaches us to use our conscious thinking to guide us. When I teach my regular yoga classes, I try not to preach. What I have to say doesn’t matter. My main goal is to help the students still their minds, be aware of their breath and bring awareness to how the poses affect their bodies, so they can be aware of their own habits and tendencies. Only then will they be able to change anything.
Taking the time to practice awareness can literally change a person’s life. It teaches us to stop reacting to what is going on in the outside and pay attention to who we are on the inside. What do we want? How do we want to live our lives? What makes us happy? What feels good? What doesn’t? Why?
So in the end, yes, much of what we do are just subconscious reactions, and if we were ever raised on any negative ideas, that isn’t very good news. However, through awareness, we can change those patterns in our muscles, our brains and in our cells. There are many resources out there to help us do it. Guided meditations help because they help us tap into that subconscious state so we change our unconscious patterns of thinking. In fact this is the idea behind hypnosis and this is why it is often used to help people lose weight and end addiction. We can take yoga or pilates class that emphasizes awareness of the body. We can find a personal trainer who will make us aware of how we move our bodies and help us change our habits. We can also learn to meditate or try neurolingquistic programming techniques. These are coaching and psychological techniques that teach us to ask specific questions and replace old perceptions and habits with new ones.
For more information on relieving stress, check out these posts:
For more information on using meditation to help change our habits check out these posts:
Often we will be told to find “awareness,” but what does this mean? Yoga teaches that we can separate the parts of the mind. When we meditate, we find ways to observe our own reactions, subconscious impressions and emotions.
Some translations of the Yoga Sutras call the part of our mind that is able to observe itself, “the perceiver.” To me, the perceiver is the part of us that has common sense, a knowledge and acceptance of how things truly are. When we meditate, the perceiver is the accepting friend and counselor in our head. Someone once told me that common sense is not so common, but I think we call it “common” because deep down inside, we know the truth. The hard part is accepting it. Only when we are in touch with the perceiver, or our illuminated mind, will we react with common sense. If we are confused or overwhelmed with “afflictive emotions,” we will react in a destructive manner.
In this post, I will attempt to describe the difference between the perceiver and the afflictive mind in a way that we can relate to in our modern lives. I will also offer suggestions on how to tap into the perceiver while meditating or dealing with life’s problems.
The difference between the perceiver and the afflictive mind:
The perceiver is our true self. It is our higher state of awareness. The perceiver is enlightened and when we tap into it, we are in touch with what religious people call God. Non-religious people call it a higher power that can see and accept the way of nature.
The afflictive mind is not our true selves. It is simply the toxins that confuse us into being someone that we are not. The Dali Lama described it in a wonderful way. He said that our true selves are like pure water. The negative emotions such as pride, anger, hatred, jealousy etc. are toxins that cloud the water. However, pure water is still there. We simply need to rid ourselves of toxic emotions and we will find peace and knowledge.
If you are having difficulty tapping into the perceiver during meditation, simply tell yourself that you are not your anger and you are not your jealousy, etc. If you were not emotional, how would you act and how would you feel?
Pretend that you are talking to an objective friend, mentor, adviser, family member, or spiritual leader. What would that person say if you came to them for advice? If you were God or an omniscient being, how would you look at the situation?
The perceiver is detached from prejudice emotions such as greed, lust or hatred. Yet, detachment doesn’t mean that the perceiver is a sociopath or doesn’t care. It is the perceiver’s supreme love and compassion that makes it understand that all life is important and that we are all interconnected. Knowing this makes it want to help all living things and refrain from harming ourselves or others.
The afflictive mind identifies and clings to its emotions. When it is enraged, jealous, confused, or violent, it may say “this is who I am.” It may hang on to hatred for another country or person. It will unfairly side only with people who are like him/her. It cannot see how we are all connected. It grasps on to identities such as race, religion, politics and pride.
During meditation, focus on how we are all alike. We all live. We all suffer. We all feel pleasure. We all have bad days. We all get angry or frustrated. If you are having a hard time understanding someone who is being ignorant or rude, think of a time that you made a mistake and acted ignorant or rude and try to see yourself in that person.
The perceiver seeks peace.
The afflictive mind seeks trouble and drama.
When meditating, ask yourself if your thoughts and actions are bringing you to a state of peace, or if your actions and thoughts are creating more drama, confusion or trouble.
The perceiver spreads good karma. The definition of “karma” is actions and the result of what we do. Always seeking to do kindness and to spread peace, the perceiver creates success for him/herself. On a small scale, the ability to stay calm and make wise decisions brings the perceiver success in business and relationships. On a higher scale, people may gravitate to the perceiver and his/her wisdom helps people beyond him/herself. These actions also help future generations
The afflictive mind spreads bad karma. The confused mind attaches itself to emotions and reacts with violence, or trouble. This creates drama that could lead to altercations with friends, relatives, co-workers and the law. This bad karma will lead to lack of success and a sad life. On a grand scale, this suffering can spread to others, perpetuating the cycle of war and violence. These actions can be passed on to children and future generations.
Meditating on karma is a very serious matter. Look at how the actions of others have affected you. For example, someone might have insulted you and this has made you angry. In turn, you insult another. If this cycle goes on, it could escalate to more people. Make a choice to become aware and end this cycle.
Choose to smile instead. Say something kind to another. This kindness will spread and will lead to a better environment for you and everyone else.
The perceiver takes responsibility for his/her actions and seeks to find solutions to life’s problems.
The afflictive mind blames everyone and everything else for his/her problems. Passing blame onto others, he/she relinquishes self responsibility and free will, never finding solutions.
When faced with a problem, take the blame off of others. Instead, take full responsibility. Start brain storming solutions. Ask yourself what you can do and search your mind for solutions. Maybe even research the internet. Write down as many solutions you can.
If we focus on the solution, the universe will reward us with solutions. If we focus on the problem, the universe will react by bringing more problems.
The perceiver is accepting and forgiving of the self and of others. The perceiver knows that the self and others have afflictive emotions. It knows that problems are temporary. It knows that these emotions do not represent who we truly are and it forgives itself and others, choosing unconditional love over judgment and self loathing. By not holding grudges and hanging on to afflictive emotions, peace is easier to find.
The afflictive mind gets angry and frustrated at itself. This makes failures and life’s problems bigger than they really are. It is also hard on others and gets easily insulted when other people have afflictive emotions. The afflictive mind just can’t let go and find peace.
When faced with the ups and downs of life, feeling guilty and beating yourself up will only worsen the problem.
Also, passing judgment on others only feeds the afflictive mind which is obsessed with anger.
Forgive yourself and others. When you forgive another person, you do it for yourself, so that anger and loathing does not ruin our own life. You’ll be amazed at how much ending a grudge will allow you to focus on bigger and better things.
Ask yourself how the person who has wronged you has made you stronger and thank them for the lesson.
The perceiver understands when there is too much or too little of a good thing. It practices discipline and moderation. It treats the body and mind with compassion.
The afflictive mind may over indulge in pleasurable activities until they become destructive. It might seek to escape in drugs, eating disorders, alcoholism, gambling and other vices out of frustration and self loathing.
Practice awareness in everything you do. Pay attention to how you feel. Take a moment to breathe while you are eating. When exercising, take a moment to see how you feel in order to avoid injuries.
When escaping into drugs or overindulging in any act, ask yourself if this is helping your situation.
If you still can’t stop overindulging, seek outside help.
Because the perceiver has a higher view of the universe, it is stronger in character and principle. It is less easily swayed by suggestion, peer pressure or manipulation.
The afflictive mind is easily swayed by commercials, subliminal messages, insults and psychological conditioning. Some people seek therapy and yoga to find their perceiver because their lives have been controlled by negative conditioning in the past. The perceiver can stand outside of the mind and see when it has been manipulated.
When you feel strong feelings arise in you, think before you react. Look at your past and ask yourself how your past experiences could have positively or negatively lead to how you react to events today.
When you find yourself wanting to own something just because of commercial advertising, ask yourself you truly need that item and if it is worth the cost.
Turn off the TV and computer now and then to clear your mind of clutter. With the rise of social networking, websites such a facebook can lead to addiction.
The perceiver is the angel on your shoulder. The perceiver is the sensible part of yourself that tells you when you are getting into trouble. It is your higher intuition.
The afflictive mind is the devil on your shoulder. The afflictive mind doesn’t listen to its higher intuition and chooses the lower path which often leads to trouble and regret.
There is an old Native American parable that goes: There is a fight going on inside me between two wolves. One is angry, and full of destructive emotions. The other is happy, calm and full of love.
Which one wins?
The one we feed.
When you feel afflictive emotions rising in you, try not to feed them by seeking council with people who patronize them by perpetuating malicious gossip and hate. Tell yourself that you don’t want these emotions inside of you. Find friends that are objective. Surround yourself with positive influences. Keep practicing awareness. It will come in handy during challenging times. Keep books, poems, essays, mantras, letters or songs of wisdom handy and turn to them when you find yourself feeling negative. Over time, the positive and more intelligent and intuitive part of your mind will win over the negative and destructive part of your mind because you choose to feed it more.
For more insight on how I asked a family member to be “the angel on my shoulder,” check out this link:
For more insight on meditation, check out this link:
For more information of the wisdom of the yoga sutras, check out this link:
For more insight on the act of compassion, check out this link: