Mantra Japa as a Timeless Practice for Conquering Fear

If you take a moment to sit and notice what you are feeling right now, there is probably a mixmaster of thoughts, emotions, beliefs and feelings running around your body and mind.

Continued worries about the pandemic, worry about the future (health, finances, relationships), interacting with people in public again — a mixture of longing and hesitation, seemingly ever-widening polarization of society, wanting to get more involved with extended family, changes that we never anticipated, what comes next? …..worries, anxiety, desire, clinging to the familiar that is now long gone. Uncertainty. Fear. 

Yoga offers many tools to welcome, understand, listen to, and grow from the messages delivered by feelings, emotion, thoughts and beliefs. Those “fluctuations of the heart-mind” have a habit of running around in our heads constantly, telling us our story, keeping us in a self-referenced bondage of our superficial self — our personality, relationships and possessions. Yoga teaches that our deepest self is the Awareness of all these activities of the heart-mind.. And that Awareness is always unchanging, sweet and joyful. Once we calm the activities of the mind, we can notice this subtle Awareness and know that deep down, we are whole, complete and perfect. 

The tools of yoga include yoga postures, breathing practices, meditation, yoga nidra and mantra japa. Mantra japa is the repetition of a word or phrase over and over, calming the mind and helping us be open and aware of our ever-present Awareness. Repeating the mantra evokes the archetypal energy that already exists within us, represented in the mantra. Your mantra japa practice may also have a specific intention.

The topic of this blog is the Mṛtyuñjaya-mahāmantraḥ, the great death-conquering mantra. It is chanted in support of ourselves, family or friends who are going through great difficulty, health challenges, or death. It’s intention is to help us through these difficulties and importantly, to eliminate the fear of the changes that are coming, immersing us in the sweetness of Awareness. 

This mantra is one of a literal handful of mantras that have been in continuous use for over 3,000 years, perhaps 4,000 or more. It is still in use today by millions of people around the world, and so links us to maybe 150 generations of humanity all chanting these very same words, these very same sounds, with the same or similar intention. And since it is a Vedic chant, we chant it even with the same melody. It can provide us a connection to the past that is often missing from our young immigrant / melting pot country. 

It originated, as you would expect, in a very different culture, full of agricultural metaphor and personal deities. The deities, at their root, speak to archetypal structures that all of us have within us, so when we chant to a deity, we call forth that archetype from within. This is a chant to Shiva, the three-eyed one (representing pure consciousness). The archetypal form of Shiva associated with this mantra is Amruteshwara, the lord of the nectar of immortality. 

A literal translation of the mantra is: 

“We worship the three-eyed Lord, who is sweetly fragrant (with awakened consciousness) and who increases well-being. 

Liberate us from bondage to death / fear of death like a cucumber separated from the vine, (i.e., irreversibly and easily) but not from the nectar of immortality.“

That is a bit far afield from our world-view and experience. Since this is a mantra associated with Amruteshwara, we can translate it as follows: 

“We invoke the sweet fragrance of awakened consciousness to increase our well-being.

Forever liberate us from all fear and the fear of death and immerse us in the nectar of immortality.”

So our intention for using the mantra is to be liberated from fear, which is at the root of so much anxiety and suffering, and to be immersed in the sweetness of universal consciousness, which was never born and never dies. We can apply this to specific intentions for health and healing for ourselves and for others. Mantra japa is generally performed in a quiet voice in a space and time where you will not be interrupted. People often use a mālā to further the meditative quality and also track the number of repetitions, perhaps 27 or 54 or 108 repetitions. If you do not have a mālā, you may just set aside a specific time for your mantra japa practice. 

The Sanskrit transliteration of the mantra appears below:

Oṁ tṛya̍mbakaṃ yajāmahe suga̱ndhiṃ pu̍ṣṭi̱vardha̍nam | u̱rvā̱ru̱kami̍va̱ bandha̍nānmṛ̱tyormu̍kṣīya̱ mā’mṛta̎t ||

To learn more about Vedic chant, yoga sutra-s and yoga philosophy, check out the Chanting and Yoga Philosophy Intensive, offered in conjunction with River Flow Yoga Teacher Training School, starting May 17: http://www.riverflowyoga.net/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/ChantingYogaPhilosophy-Intensive_2021-22_012721.pdf

Awareness Through Movement: “The Possibilities are Endless”

By Bette Stephens, P.T., G.C.F.P.

“Harmonious efficient movement prevents wear and tear.  More important, however, is what it does to the image of ourselves and our relationship to the world around us.”  (Moshe Feldenkrais)

What is Awareness Through Movement?

Welcome to increasing your AWARENESS through Movement from “The Feldenkrais Method”.  I’d like to tell you a little bit about my classes offered through 5 Koshas Yoga & Wellness in Wausau, WI.  Each lesson begins with very easy movements, that you are instructed to do gently, slowly, and repetitively.  As the lesson progresses, interesting, non-habitual variations are weaved in; at this point, it is very helpful to engage your curiosity as you listen to your body following the instructions.

“Learning happens when the brain is confused, out of its habit and then learning can happen.”  (Ruthy Alon)

Guided scans are led in the beginning to enable you to learn more about some of your habitual patterns; later scans allow you to acknowledge changes that are happening throughout the lesson.  The scanning supports your learning process and allows you to adjust the way you are interpreting the instructions.

I remind you to treat yourself with complete self-respect: “do less than you could”, and to “feel, not strain”.  And, when you feel the pleasure of the gains, you’re encouraged to enjoy them and accept them as benefits to your learning experience; this AWARENESS leads to neurological responses, that gradually provide lasting effects or “neuroplasticity”, benefits that you can “keep” or at least, quickly regain.

There are a wide-range of lessons, but, you will find they all benefit your breathing and ability to be in the moment (a kind of “Movement Meditation”); your neuromuscular system relaxes, allowing tight muscles to let go of holding and regain their more normal length; coordination of body parts are reawakened with a sense that your skeleton and muscles are more organized when you stand up, with a more stable base, a feeling of lengthening upright and opening of your upper chest, all leading to lighter, easier movements in your life activities:

“The lessons are designed to improve ability, that is to expand the boundaries of the possible:  to turn the impossible into the possible, the difficult into the easy, and the easy into the pleasant.  For only those activities that are easy and pleasant will become part of (your) habitual life and will serve (you) at all times.”  (Moshe Feldenkrais)

There are many benefits to a wide spectrum of people, the only requirements are an ability to listen with curiosity and an openness to new possibilities.  “The Possibilities are Endless”, words I often heard and embodied with Gaby Yaron; thankfully, she was my trainer in the early 1990’s.  If you have never experienced “ATM” lessons, you do have that opportunity through “5 Koshas Yoga and Wellness”.  And, if you have done “ATM” lessons, previously, wouldn’t you like to do more?

Bette Stephens, P.T., G.C.F.P., teaches Awareness Through Movement Classes at 5 Koshas Yoga & Wellness in Wausau, WI.  You can find her class schedule at https://www.5koshasyoga.com/yoga/class-schedule/

The View From My Yoga Mat

Written By: Janie Martin, 5 Koshas Yoga Student

Photographed above is Janie’s Yoga Buddy Spanky, who watches as she practices daily!

I am a yoga student, usually taking twice a week lessons, for four years. I also practice on my own nearly every day. I consider myself a ranked beginner.

Before I started taking classes, I thought yoga looked easy. My main concerns were not looking silly and keeping up with my classmates the first few weeks. My goal was to remain flexible as I aged; and because my doctor recommended yoga for those who were, like me, at high risk of osteoporosis.

At random, I picked a “beginner” class in Tulsa where I was living and found a gem of an instructor, and a room full of kindred souls.

Even when everyone else was stretching to the right side, and I was inexplicably going left, there were no laughs or corrections. My concerns about looking silly vanished quickly.

After six months it dawned on me that although I was getting (at least most of the time!) into the correct poses, I wasn’t focused on increasing my ability to stretch.

I had heard “go halfway between easy and hard,” from instructor Linda for six months, but that day the lightbulb came on, and I started to feel progress.

As we prepared to move home to Wisconsin two years ago, one of the things that was the hardest to leave behind was my class and instructor.

Finding a yoga studio was a high priority and I was very fortunate to end up at 5 Koshas, in gifted Renee’s class.

Due to the pandemic, I now only see my fun and interesting classmates via zoom, but I anxiously await a return to the studio when it is safe.

Recently, during my solo practice at home, I had another blinding glimpse of the obvious, or BGO, as I call them.

I was focused on breath and movement, and suddenly realized I was matching my breath to my body movement, and not matching the body movement to my breath.

This may sound inconsequential, but when I started to let my breath lead, my physical movements slowed drastically.

This after I have heard multiple instructors coach the correct way for four years! The result when I got it right was a deeper sense of relaxation and calm.

Years ago, I enjoyed taking Tae Kwan Do classes with my son. But in contrast with yoga, the focus was on learning a skill set and advancing.

It felt like a pressurized rush to master and move up. Yoga is complex enough that I am still challenged in a “Beginner and Beyond” class.

I am making slow progress, but I am not impatient. Going slow is delivering gains in my flexibility, but also in achieving a relaxed mental state which is almost addictively enjoyable.

Once in a while, I am busy and tempted to skip my daily practice. But when I “adult myself” to the mat, it only takes minutes for me to be glad I am taking this time for myself.

It never fails when I get on the floor at home our two big dogs come to see if I need their help. (I don’t.) Luckily they lose interest quickly, and when they depart, our cats come and lie on the mat corners.

It is unusual for the cats to seek me out during the day. I believe they are attracted by the calm energy I have when practicing. “Calm energy” is not how anyone who knows me would usually describe me.

I am enjoying my yoga journey at a pace that feels right for me. I am adjusting to a new instructor, and as hard as it is to accept change, I know I will have a BGO or two because everyone helps me see or feel something new.

I am inspired by those I take classes with who are older than I, or have physical challenges, yet persist in practicing.

I hope I can be a beginner still unrolling my mat daily for many years to come. You may still see me sweeping left when everyone else is sweeping right, but after all, they do call it “practice.”

Yoga For Better Sleep

by Kerry MacDonald, RYT-200

“Counting sheep to sleep?”

There are so many reasons for sleepless nights.  Many of us are busy and stressed, unable to shut our brains off. Daily stresses build in our mind and cause anxiety. Others suffer from muscle aches and pains that wake them up and keep them up.

Yoga is similar to a meditation session in that it encourages you to bring focus back to your body and breathe, your mind is less distracted. You will find sleep comes easier when negative thoughts are diminished.

Langhana breathing practice is when your exhale is longer than your inhale, this technique relaxes your nervous system and can be calming to your mind.

Exploring different yoga postures to relax tense muscles can be extremely helpful to ease daily aches and pains. Various poses help to stimulate deeper breathing, which in turn relax your body & soothe your mind.

The more you practice the less you tend to think about your breathing techniques because it becomes more natural.

Everyone feels a little overwhelmed and stressed, it’s normal.  We all find ourselves struggling to fall asleep at one time or another.  Being able to calm your mind and get some extra zzzz’s would be a great gift to yourself.

 

Can you learn yoga techniques to sleep better at night?

You can join me on Sundays at 7 PM for Online Pajama Yoga: Yoga For Better Sleep & Tuesdays at 9 AM for Online Gentle Yoga For Beginners & Beyond These classes are intended for beginners and beyond! Everyone is welcome.  Also, these classes will be recorded and are available for 5 days.

Kerry MacDonald RYT-200, has been a yoga practitioner for 5 years and was certified as a yoga teacher by River Flow Yoga Teacher Training School in 2020.  Her yoga teaching is to help students to feel confident and knowledgeable about their practice while exploring all the benefits the practice has to offer and apply it to daily living.

Yoga: Function in Life Over Perfect Form on the Mat

by Sally Konkol, RN, BSN, RYT-200

“Can you reach that bowl on the top shelf?”

We have all been there.  Up on our tip toes, arm stretched as much as possible.  Needing just another half inch.  “There, I got it!”  It is times like that when I continue to appreciate the functional benefits of yoga for everyday living.

Yoga movements, postures, and breathing practices help to keep us strong and balanced.  Moving our arms, bending forward, lateral bending, twisting and balance are part of everyday living, and part of any yoga practice.

  • Bending forward: think of tying your shoes; bending and reaching into the dryer for that last sock; or weeding the garden.
  • Lateral bending: think of reaching under the couch for that dog toy; or washing windows.
  • Twisting: think of looking in your blind spot while driving; or shoveling snow.
  • Balance: think of reaching that top shelf on your tip toes.

Having strong legs, a strong back, and a strong core all aid in keeping us steady while we walk, climb stairs or anything else we do on any given day.  Moving our bodies stimulates our circulation and lymphatic system, aiding in immunity.  Weight bearing exercise helps to keep our bones strong.  And the mindfulness of yoga helps decrease the stress that everyone has.  This is what we can do for ourselves, this is self-care.

Here are some self-care practices you can try at home:

Balancing Tadasana (balance posture)

Begin by standing with feet hip distance apart.  Feel grounded and steady.  On an inhale, sweep your arms out to the side and up above your head.  At the same time, lift your heals off the floor.  On the exhale, sweep arms back down to your sides, as you bring your heals back down to the floor.  Move intentionally with your inhale and exhale.  Practice this posture 6 times.

 

Ardha Pārśvottānāsana (lateral forward bending posture)

Stand with left foot forward, right foot turned slightly outward, right arm overhead, and left arm folded behind your back.  On exhale, bend forward, bending left knee slightly, bringing chest toward left thigh, and right hand to left foot.  On inhale, lift chest and arm until torso is parallel to the ground.  On exhale, return to the forward bend position.  On inhale, return to starting position.  Moving with your breath. Repeat 4 times, then switch sides.

 

Sukasana Parivrtti (seated twist posture)

Start with a comfortable seated position on your mat or in a chair.  Place left hand on right knee.  Place right hand behind your hips.  On exhale, twist to the right, looking over your right shoulder.  On inhale, return to starting position.  Repeat 4 times, then switch sides.

 

Mindful Minute (breathing practice)

Inhale slowly, and think peace

Exhale slowly, and think calm

Take 8-10 slow, deep purposeful breaths

 

Think of that top shelf.

Can you reach your goals for self-care?

You can join me on Wednesdays at 4:15 for the Zoom class “Yoga for Self-Care: Creating Calm with Movement and Breathing.  This class is intended for beginners, but all are welcome.  Also, this class will be recorded and is available for 5 days.

Sally Konkol, RN, BSN, RYT-200, has been a yoga practitioner for 8 years and was certified as a yoga teacher by River Flow Yoga Teacher Training School in 2020.  Her yoga teaching is straight forward and practical, helping the practice feel relevant and accessible to new and experienced students. 

 

Non-Attachment Through Yoga Practice: Freedom, Peace, Courage

What have you had to give up an attachment to this year?

Some of the attachments may be more superficial, some more deeply difficult. Your list might be long. Family rituals, friend gatherings, travel, work, school life with in-person contact, in-person volunteer work, shared interest with others in hobbies, sports or causes, in-person entertainment. You may be suffering with those most deeply difficult changes, such as death of someone you love, loss of a relationship that was important to you or major changes in relationships due to the stresses of this time.

We are all living with the reality of our many attachments. The pandemic is like a big mirror, reflecting our attachments and aversions. While this pandemic, in its size and scope, is new for all of us, suffering with attachments and aversions is not. The ancient philosophical teachings of yoga describe these concepts and offer suggestions for managing attachment and aversion.

We can move through life tethered to our identification with things, ideas, opinions, and self-concept. But if we walk courageously willing to examine our identifications, we can experience the fruits of freedom, peace, and courage. Let’s explore these concepts and their relationship to loosening the grip of attachments or aversions.

Freedom

Non-attachment or vairagya “is an ability to remain centered, without being knocked off balance and impelled to behave in ways we may later regret.” It “is the ability to reside in a space without the compulsion to act; it gives us the freedom to choose how to respond,” according to Roy and Charlton in Embodying the Yoga Sutra: Support, Direction, Space.

The pandemic has created a space to explore what we really do not miss. It has also created a deeper understanding of what is most meaningful, what our hearts yearn for.

There is freedom in understanding how we used to spend our time and energy and how we want to spend our time and energy going forward. Observing and exploring attachments and aversions helps us peel back the layers to see our own true nature and to live more fully from that place. As we loosen the grip of things, repetitive patterns of thinking and emotional reactivity patterns, we open ourselves to being more selfless, to serving others and our communities.

Peace

When we can observe our attachments and aversions without acting on them, we suddenly have a newfound sense of peace. An introspective mindset helps us see the desires, discomforts and motivations that are underneath what we cling to and what we avoid. If we are hooked by attachments, we are also accumulating a lot of maintenance work. If we act less on attachments, energy is freed up for what gives our lives meaning.

You can’t live through an election cycle without some awareness that we are all tethered to our opinions. Social media and group-think amplifies this attachment. Instead of really studying an issue and trying to understand it at a deeper level, there is the tendency to quickly like or dislike or tweet about it.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, author and winner of the National Book Award, said recently in a Washington Post article, “If I’m honest with you, I feel like the need to have an opinion on everything corrupts thinking.”

Peace can wash over us when we dedicate our thinking and talking and writing time to what really matters to us and where we feel we can effect change. Non-attachment doesn’t mean not caring or absolving oneself of responsibility to others and the community. Discerning how to act to effect change is a very individual experience. Snarky tweets and Facebook outrage are typically just amplifying and broadcasting our attachments, while the quiet work of the peaceful warrior is one of steady actions toward goals that will make a difference.

“Detachment is not indifference. It is the prerequisite for effective involvement. Often what we think is best for others is distorted by our attachments to our opinions. We want others to be happy in the way we think they should be happy. It is only when we want nothing for ourselves that we are able to see clearly into others needs and understand how to serve them.”
-Mahatma Gandhi

Courage

We can be pushed around by our aversions, letting them define us, perhaps even limiting our openness to new and enlightening experiences and to love without expectations. I often think of parenting in those first few years of childhood as the ultimate act of being able to let go of attachments and aversions to love and serve another human being without expectation.

Non-attachment or vairagya is an active process, a tending to the smudges on the mirror so that peace and love are more well-established than fear, selfishness, and attachment.

Problem-solving is an important skill anytime but maybe even more so during a pandemic. The less attached we are to our ideas, or the way we’ve always done things, or the way we thought things would be, the more skillful and less anxious we can be in working out solutions. Openness invites the presence of creativity and problem-solving.

Methods to Work with Attachment and Aversion in Yoga Practice – On & Off the Mat

Yoga practice can create a space for working with our attachments and aversions. It provides a space to explore what is, and to strengthen our ability to observe and change attachments and aversions that keep us from peace, freedom and living a courageous life.

  • If physical postures are part of your yoga practice, explore new postures or change up how you do a posture. Use a contra-lateral adaptation, add chanting, or adapt the breath to cultivate openness and curiosity over habitual ways of moving.
  • Start a regular breathing practice if you don’t already have one. Even 5 minutes a day can be life-affirming. Pranayama cultivates focus, energy, and patience – all qualities that help us stay steady through life’s ups and downs. Pranayama also helps reset the reactivity dial every day.
  • Meditate on attachments and aversions. What are the underlying motivations or intentions for those attachments and aversions? Reflect on true sources of happiness. Whenever we can turn from self-serving to selfless, we orient more toward the deeper callings of the heart.
  • Meditate on loss. Examine it. Give it space. Understand the depth of the loss and what attachments and aversions are wrapped up in that loss. Explore what remains as a connection that endures through time. Meditate on what is coming out of that loss. Ask yourself if you can experience your life with all the richness and difficulties and remain open and in awe? As you process the loss, turn your mind in meditation to objects of attention that symbolize what you are trying to cultivate moving forward.
  • Off the mat, try to put a space between what happens to you and how you react to it. Consciously take 3 or more deep breaths, keeping your mind focused on the sound, physical sensation, and length of the breath. Be present with where and what you’re experiencing. Is it an attachment to a certain way of reacting? Are you feeling like you want to run from what you’re experiencing? Any disturbing emotion such as anxiety, sadness, anger, or fear provides an invitation to understand what’s underneath the push or pull for us.
  • When you complain about the way things used to be in the “before times,” or rail against new routines in the “now times,” or feel the attachment to the “after times,” take a few moments to identify what you are clinging to and what you want to run from. What is a ‘feel-good moment’ that you miss and what is the deeper suffering that relates to loss of connection? If we can identify the foundation of the suffering, we can be more effective in a course of action.

“Wisdom is the ability to rise above perceptions that are clouded by biased self-interest to discern the meaning concealed in a fact or event,” says Reverend Jaganath Carrera in Inside the Yoga Sutras: A Comprehensive Sourcebook for the Study and Practice of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.

We all have our attachments and aversions. They are the smudges and fog on the mirror that obscure clarity. These wonderfully human imperfections invite us to transform and live more authentically. Through the practice of non-attachment, we can let the big mirror of the pandemic help us see where we were, where we are now, and how much we want a deeper connection to freedom, peace and courage for the future.

Stamina & Soul – Pandemic Ponderings Part 2

“Your Mother is in the closet with the kids.”

I paused and tried to picture this.

My Dad continued, “I’m not sure if she’s teaching the kids something or trying to find a new perspective?” His voice trailed off as I stared at my cell phone.

“Send me a picture Dad. I’ve got to see this.”

Calls and texts have been part of my parents’ communication from Michigan since early September when they began helping my niece and nephew with their virtual learning.

“We hope we are doing this right,” has been their weekly sentiment.

Personal hesitation, uncertainty and curiosity can be revealed within the sphere of daily tasks right up through digesting world updates.

2020 has put the spotlight on how we relate to external situations and internal reactions in addition to reviewing ‘how we used to do things’ and whether we are ‘doing it right.’

A daily check-in can be: “Am I in a teaching moment, learning moment or am I staying the same?”

It takes more than physical endurance to navigate these experiences of life.

Mental health and soul stamina need attention too. Strategies to nurture mind and soul are not always hiding in the closet.

Here are accessible and effective strategies to integrate into daily life:

MIND-BODY RESET
• Stand, sit or move to supine
• As you breathe in and breathe out, wiggle your toes on your left
foot and fingers on your right hand
• Exhale and soften your toes and fingers
• Next wiggle your toes on your right foot and fingers on your left
hand
• Exhale and soften your toes and fingers
• Continue for a few minutes then pause for 4-8 breaths to let your
placement of attention be in your body

CYCLE STRESS THROUGH WITH SOULFUL CONNECTIONS
MoveHow can your body move today? Standing, seated or supine, choose a place indoors or outdoors. Take 5 minutes and move your body. Wiggle, dance, sweep arms into mountain pose, march, walk, yawn, smile.
BreatheInhale & exhale deeply. Stretch while you breathe. Then explore this for at least 4 breath cycles: a 4-count inhale, pause gently at the peak of the inhale, then 4-count exhale, pause gently at the base of the exhale.
ConnectCall, facetime or zoom a friend or family member. If able, reconnect with a favorite person & take a walk. Write a letter & send it by ‘snail-mail.’ Stay connected to your lifelines. We are all trying to figure it out & support systems are vital.
Smile & LaughDo something that sparks your joy. Even if a memory conjures up a chuckle or a full belly laugh. Welcome the endorphins and go with it.

Hugs and stuffed animals. Eventually, I heard the details surrounding Grandma’s closet adventure. Fortunately, she didn’t get a cramp in her foot. Everyone was laughing. For future statistical research, at least three individuals and numerous toys can fit in a 6 x 4 closet quite comfortably. Yet the perspective is much sweeter when all involved embrace in a hug.

Keep Learning – Stay Connected:
Music: Check out Coldplay’s ‘A Head Full of Dreams’ and dance. Listen HERE

Podcast: Brene Brown’s Unlocking Us with Drs. Emily & Amelia Nagoski
on burnout and how to complete the stress cycle Listen HERE

What would you like to add to this list to support each other within our collective, ongoing life practice?
Look for this blog when you visit Facebook at 5 Koshas or Heather Van Dalfsen and Instagram with Heather Van Dalfsen to share your thoughts.

Photo Credit: Photo taken by Heather’s Dad, Jim Thompson

Yoga for Focus & Attention as the Season Changes

Autumn brings a distraction, more so this year as we navigate the change along with the pandemic and all its twists, turns and complexities.  Have you noticed how your mind and thoughts run around like squirrels gathering and burying acorns?

Squirrel!

It is the season of the squirrel.  Summer has said its last goodbye for the year.  The crispness and color of fall is upon us.  With the season change comes distraction, cognitive fog with fewer hours of daylight and maybe even this year, an accompanying worry about what is next as we are still actively in a pandemic.

The nature of the mind is to have runaway thoughts.   Fortunately, the ancient yogis devised techniques for harnessing thoughts to create focus and improve attention.  At our disposable are simple but effective tools and techniques.

Tips for Yoga Practice for Focus & Attention during Seasonal Changes

  • Infuse yoga postures with the breath.  Each part of a movement is accompanied and powered by a phase of the breath.

  • Do yoga postures with contra-lateral adaptations
  • Adapt the breath in yoga postures to lift energy or calm, depending on what you need.  If you need to focus and lift energy, use a short retention after inhale.  If you need to focus and calm down, extend exhale progressively as you do a posture.
  • Do breathing practices (pranayama), especially with nostril valving such as Nadi Shodana (alternate nostril breathing)
  • Use meditative techniques such as fixing your attention to an image of light in your heart and mind or using a mantra (a word or phrase that is supportive for you).  A supportive mantra at this time of year is Om Jyotir Aham (invoking light within).

When to Get Help

As the season changes, it’s important to work with your health care provider if you get significant symptoms of seasonal affective disorder that deeply impact your life such as having trouble functioning at work or home, difficulty in your personal relationships, or you have significant feelings of depression and hopelessness or anxiety.

Resources

If you are interested in using yoga techniques to help with seasonal changes, contact a Yoga Therapist as they are trained in tailoring techniques for your unique manifestation of seasonal changes as well as other health conditions you may have.

For other writing on yoga and seasonal changes, see past blogs on fatigue and general yoga practice tips for seasonal changes.

Intention

As you move toward the winter solstice, use your yoga practice to support and nourish your focus and attention.  Use your practice to gently harness your attention to do what must be done and cultivate light to burn off any cognitive fog that clouds your day.

Stick figure graphics by Sequence Wiz, www.sequencewiz.com.

Mary Hilliker, RDN, E-RYT 500, C-IAYT is a Certified Viniyoga Teacher and Yoga Therapist and Registered Dietitian-Nutritionist with 5 Koshas Yoga and Wellness Center and River Flow Yoga Teacher Training School in Wausau WI. Mary offers individualized Yoga Therapy in person and online.  She teaches therapeutic and wellness yoga classes, mini-retreats, workshops, webinars and yoga teacher training (200 hr. Yoga Teacher Training | 300 hr. Advanced Yoga Teacher Training for RYT-500). 

Pandemic Ponderings

Tempers, Tools & Pandemic Ponderings, Part 1

What. Are. You. Doing?!

A low, loud voice attached to an angry face bellowed to me from an open car window. The honking came next to punctuate the intensity.

My emotions rallied and my stress response accelerated.

What WAS I doing?

The drive north over the Mackinac Bridge had become a bottleneck of cars trying to complete the arduous entry into the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

The weight of the muggy, summer weather a hovering reminder that there was nowhere to go.

The stand-still traffic literally made me ‘sit’ with everything. I felt so uncomfortable.

I tried to shrug my shoulders and release my grip on the steering wheel. Re-routing my eyes to the shades of blue within the waves of water, shifted my racing thoughts.

I remembered to breathe. 

I remembered I had a choice to respond more and react less.

My efforts weren’t grandiose yet they were sincere. My body and mind realized the nervous-system-brakes were pumping with each inhale and exhale.

What have I been doing?

What have any of us been doing?

Stress, anxiety, anger, grief.

Ease, vitality, peace, calm.

How were we all going to continue to navigate the ‘traffic jam’ of experiences and emotions within ourselves, especially living within a global virus and universal ‘reset’ of systems, institutions and perspectives?

Cleaning the windshield of our perception to channel our speech, actions and thoughts in a direction of healing, compassion and actionable next steps can be gritty, personal work.  Yet it can be the fuel that moves us forward.

What are some of our best tools to leverage our internal guidance system that supports the bridge between physical, mental, emotional, even spiritual wellbeing and growth?

Keep it simple and sincere:

Breathing, moving, observing and reflecting to access and explore:

  • Functional movements and managing the stress response
  • Discernment as to what needs immediate attention
  • Feeling the ebb and flow of emotions

Singing, mantra, meditation and play are additional tools are outlets to express ourselves and release pent up energy while also strengthening transformation and connections with the world we live in.

All of it is a practice. On the good days it takes practice so on the challenging days we can respond more, create choices and move forward.

Take a few minutes or more each day to practice. Choose from the list below and observe the effects of your practices throughout the day. How does your body feel? Where is your attention? What thoughts and emotions do you experience? What supports you to express yourself?

 

Hands to Head to Heart

  • When able, touch the earth with your hands, take 3-4 deep breaths.
  • Practice bringing your attention to the textures, colors and smells.
  • Repeat the mantra: I am here and I am breathing.

Short Breath Practice

  • When able, place one hand at the heart space – upper body and one hand on the stomach
  • Feel your body’s subtle movements as you inhale and exhale
  • Inhale a sense of fresh oxygen and space – Exhale a sense of release
  • Take 3-4 more breaths inhaling through the nose (fresh oxygen and space) and exhaling a loud sigh through the mouth (release)

Soft Pull of Gravity

  • Place your feet on the ground, sense the soft pull of gravity that keeps you connected to earth
  • Inhale -sweep your arms wide and up, Exhale- sweep arms wide and down, 3-4 repetitions
  • Repeat the mantra: I am standing on stable ground. I am creating stability within myself.

 

For those in-car or other moments – reminders you are not alone

Music: Check out Trevor Hall and Brett Dennen’s ‘Put Down What You Are Carrying’
Listen here: https://g.co/kgs/5ngUuP

Podcast: On Being with Krista Tippett – Shaping Grief with Language with Gregory Orr
Listen here: https://onbeing.org/programs/gregory-orr-shaping-grief-with-language/

 

What would you like to add to this list to support each other within our collective, ongoing practice? Look for this blog when you visit Facebook at 5 Koshas or Heather Van Dalfsen and Instagram with Heather Van Dalfsen to share your thoughts.

Photo Credit: Photo taken by Heather Van Dalfsen

Cultivating Another Mental Attitude with iRest® Yoga Nidra Meditation

“When in distress, cultivate another mental attitude” Yoga Sutra-s of Patanjali, Chapter 2, sutra 33. 

As the pandemic drags on, do you find yourself wondering, what is wrong with us? Why are we so dysfunctional? This is depressing. Something seems wrong. Something seems wrong….with me.

In my studies for iRest Yoga Nidra certification, I am studying the pratya bhijña hṛdayam, The Heart of Recognition, or alternatively, The Recognition of Our Own Heart. This text is the most direct statement of The Recognition School, that reached its peak around the year 1000 CE, in the Kashmir region of what is now Pakistan. The Heart of Recognition is that we actually are a condensed form of the one consciousness. We Recognize Our Own Heart when we glimpse the qualities of the one consciousness even in our contracted form.

The first five sutra-s of this foundational text (the pratya bhijña hṛdayam) say:

  • Everything comes into being and is animated by one consciousness. The one consciousness is the ground of Being. 
  • This one consciousness has an inherent impulse to manifest, and unfolds the universe from herself, upon herself. She pours forth the universe in continuous re-creation.
  • This consciousness manifests in diverse ways and differentiates into entities that relate to one another as subjects and objects.
  • Even as there are many subjects and objects, they are still all manifestations of the one consciousness. Just as in a hologram, the whole is contained in each fragment, the whole of the one consciousness is within everything, in condensed, but complete form. There is nothing that is not consciousness.
  • And so even our minds, are the one consciousness, in contracted form.

Western psychology holds that consciousness is an attribute of the mind. Eastern psychology takes another view: the mind is the product of consciousness. So, we can take another view: that consciousness is here, and the mind is its product. Everything belongs, it is all a manifestation of one consciousness. Our thoughts and emotions are here, and we can welcome them, without judgment. And, no matter our present state of mind, we are deeply ok, we are the entirety of the one consciousness, in condensed form. 

As condensed consciousness, we forget that we indeed are the one consciousness. And then we can remember……we can get a glimpse of that vast oneness: spacious, timeless, connected, complete and whole through the practices of iRest Yoga Nidra meditation. Using ancient techniques of body and breath awareness, we can disidentify with our thoughts, emotions and beliefs. We can allow that perfume of the one consciousness to enter our own awareness, finding a familiar sense of joy. The more we practice, the more we can live out of a place of remembering. And we find that everything belongs. We find actions we can take that will help transform our suffering into growth, our pain into purpose, our sorrow into joy. We can listen to the longings of our heart, and live with a sense of life living us. And we can let go of our need to control results, because everything belongs.