Monday, November 30, 2009

The Meditative Custom

Christianity,  Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Taoism, Shinto, Jainism and the shamanistic and pagan traditions have all taught adherents how to turn their minds inward in order to plumb its mysteries and develop a relationship with the source from which our thoughts arise.  The practice of meditation - and of contemplation and prayer - lies at the heart of the great spiritual traditions.

Although we may refer to these traditions as spiritual, they are also practical psychologies for exploring and training the mind, and in many cases they are systems of philosophy and of physical culture as well.  Only in recent Western history have these various categories become separated from each other, to the detriment of each of them.  And only in recent Western history has the importance of meditation been virtually ignored, requiring us to turn eastward to rediscover those techniques that were once as familiar in the West as they have always been in the East.  Such a need to turn eastward means that particular reference is made to Hindu and Buddhist meditative practices.  But this does not imply a doctrinal approach, as meditation is for those who follow all traditions - or those who follow no tradition at all (it does not require allegiance to any particular faith or creed).

In fact, the more we study the great traditions, the more we recognise that there are many underlying similarities.  It is a strange quirk of human nature that people look for differences and divisions between things (which leads to conflict) rather than for similarities and agreements (which leads to balance and harmony).  Nowhere is this more evident than in the field of ideas and beliefs and of psychological and spiritual practices.  In meditation, all of the great traditions teach the same fundamental steps.  The details may vary, but the bedrock is the same.

The very antiquity and durability of the great traditions provides testament to their efficacy in helping people to live successful lives.  The founders of two of these traditions, Christ and the Buddha, lived respectively 2,000 and 2,500 years ago.  The Hindu rishis, responsible for the Vedas (some of the oldest books in the world), lived in India around 4,000 years ago.  Around the same time, the ancient Egyptians depicted people sitting in what appear to be straight-backed meditative poses.

The first book of the Hebrew Bible was probably written in the 5th century BCE, but dates back to a much earlier oral tradition; the Koran was written down in the 7th century CE; and the Tao Te Ching probably dates from the 4th century BCE.

Source from Learn To Meditate by David Fontana

Monday, November 23, 2009

Yoga Posture: The Standing Forward Bend (Padahastasana)

Padahastasana - Pada means the foot.  Hasta means the hand.  This posture is done by bending forward and standing on one's hands.

Padangusthasana - Pada means the foot.  Angustha is the big toe.  This posture is done by standing and catching the big toes.

Once you have gained sufficient flexibility in the back of the legs, and are able to hold the Standing Forward Bend comfortably for several minutes, you may wish to try different hand position variations.  They stretch the muscles in different ways.

This is the first of the standing poses.  In effect it is similar to Paschimothanasana, the sitting Forward Bend.  If it is remembered that "you are as young as your spine", Padahastasana will be seen as a veritable elixir of youth.  Its practice promotes a continued youthful vigour throughout life.

The Standing Forward Bend gives a complete stretch to the entire posterior of the body, from the back of the scalp to the back of the heels.  The position enables the body to take advantage of the force of gravity.  If the head and neck are kept relaxed, their weight will aid the body in stretching a bit further, provided that the knees are not allowed to bend.  Keep the body weight centred; do not allow the hips to drop backwards.

The abdominal organs are toned and digestive juices increase, while the liver and spleen are activated.  Persons suffering from a bloating sensation in the abdomen or from gastric troubles will benefit by practising this asana.

Slipped spinal discs can only be adjusted in the concave back position.  Do not bring the head in between the knees if you have a displaced disc. 

Physical Benefits

  • Lengthens the spine, making it supple and elastic.  Can even give a little extra "growth".

  • Mobilizes the joints.

  • Invigorates the entire nervous system.

  • Stretches the hamstrings and muscles of the back of the legs and the lower body.

  • Stretches all the muscles on the posterior side of the body.

  • Rectifies shortening of the legs resulting from fractures, and can correct inequalities in the length of the legs.

  • Increases the blood supply to the brain.
Mental Benefits

  • Greatly enhances concentration.
  • Expels Tamas (inertia or laziness), stimulating intellectual capacities.

Pranic Benefits
  • Renders the body light by expelling Tamas.
  • Purifies and strengthens the Sushumna nadi (the central astral nerve tube that induces meditation).
  • Invigorates the Apana Vayu (downward-moving, or efferent, prana).

Common Faults

  • Weight of the body is on the heels.

  • Back is rounded.

  • Weight is unevenly placed, causing the body to tilt to one side.

  • Feet are apart and/or turned out.

  • Knees are bent.

  • Hips are dropping back.

  • Head is forced towards the knees.
Note: Please perform the yoga posture under the guide of a certified yoga teacher especially for beginner. You are at your own risk and responsible if you perform on your own. Whatever provided here is just act as an information.

                   Light on Yoga - B.K.S. Iyengar

Friday, November 20, 2009

What is Meditation?

Put simply, meditation is the experience of the limitless nature of the mind when it ceases to be dominated by its usual mental chatter.  Think for a moment of the sky.  If the sky is continually covered by clouds, we are never able to see its true nature.  Roll the clouds away, and magically we experience the blue vastness of the sky in all its beauty.  If the mind is continually clouded by thoughts, we are never able to experience it in and of itself.  All that we experience is the cloud-cover of its contents. 

Why should we want to experience the mind in and of itself?  The answer is that it represents our true nature, a nature that is naturally calm and serene, unclouded by the various anxieties and wishes, hopes and fears that usually occupy our attention.  To experience the mind in this unclouded way is to experience the sense of being fully and vitally alive, yet at the same time deeply at peace within ourselves.

Meditation brings with it many other benefits for body and mind, but all of these depend upon the ability to experience this central state of alert yet peaceful being. 

A way of understanding this is to imagine the mind as a pool of water that for years we have been busily churning into mud with our mental chatter.  Once the churning stops, the mud settles to the bottom, and the pool becomes clear.  Not only can we now see the limpid, pure water itself, but also we can enjoy other pleasures, such as quenching our thirst, and bathing.  Its clarity and cleanliness allow us to see through to the bottom of the pool, and discover there a new world of interest and wonder.  When the mind becomes calm and still in meditation, we come to a much deeper understanding of ourselves and of our own true nature.

By stilling and calming the thoughts, meditation also stills and calms the emotions.  Thought and emotion are inextricably linked in our everyday lives.  The mind goes over painful memories, current worries and concerns for the future, and as it does so it sparks off emotions such as regret, anger and fear.  When the mind enters into meditation, the emotions experience a new sense of peace.  Even if troubling thoughts arise, much of their usual power is lacking.  The meditator is able to observe them objectively, without becoming lost in them and identifying with them.  As a result, his or her ability to rouse unwelocme emotions decreases.  At the centre of everything, the tranquillity of mind and feeling remains.  Potentially disturbing thoughts pass through the mind like clouds across the face of the sun, and are replaced by an equanimity only possible when one is at peace with oneself.

Meditation should never be thought of as an external technique that we impose upon ourselves, much as we might learn a foreign language or master a computer.  It is in essence a re-discovery of something that has always been within us, an opening of half-familiar pages in a book that we once loved but have put aside.  This does not mean that in meditation we return to the mind of a child.  Meditation does not ask us to relinquish our life experiences nor to distrust the power of thought.  It also does not ask us to become different or less interesting people than we are now.  Once the meditation session is over, the mind returns to the plans and concerns that are its usual way of being - but now with an added clarity and power in its thinking, and a greater ability to meet both the challenges and the frustrations with which life continually confronts us.

Meditation does not take us away from the world, but helps us to become more clear-sighted and effective people within it.  It also enables us to become more sensitive and compassionate toward other people and toward the natural world, because it develops within us a sense of the unity and inter-dependence of all things, and an awareness of what it means to be human.  With this greater sensitivity and awareness comes an enhanced feeling of self-awareness and self-acceptance.  For the first time, we really sense the deep mystery and the precious nature of life.

Source from Learn To Meditate by David Fontana

Sunday, November 15, 2009

You Are What You Eat

Yoga develops our pure inner nature, and diet plays an important part in this process.  The Yogic scriptures divide food into three types: sattvic, or pure; rajasic, or stimulating; and tamasic, or impure and rotten.  The Yogic diet is based on pure, sattvic foods.

Overactivity - Rajas

The Yogic diet avoids substances that are over-stimulating, or rajasic.  Onions, garlic, coffee, tea, and tobacco are rajasic, as are heavily spiced and salted items, and many ready-prepared convenience foods and snacks.  Refined sugar, soft drinks, and chocolate are also rajasic.  Rajasic foods arouse animal passions, bring a restless state of mind, and make the person over-active.  They destroy the mind-body balance that is essential for happiness.

Rajasic Foods

"The foods that are bitter, sour, saline, excessively hot, pungent, dry and burning, are liked by the Rajasic and are productive of pain, grief, and disease."
Bhagavad Gita, 17-9

Rajasic Behaviour

Rajasic foods overstimulate the body and mind, cause physical and mental stress, and encourage circulatory and nervous disorders.

Inertia - Tamas

Tamasic substances are avoided in the Yogic diet because they produce feelings of heaviness and lethargy.  Meat, fish, eggs, drugs, and alcohol are tamasic, as are overcooked and packaged foods.  Other tamasic items include those that have been fermented, burned, fried, barbecued, or reheated many times, as well as stale products or those containing preservatives.  Mushrooms are included in this category, as they grow in darkness.

Tamasic Foods

"That food which is stale, tasteless, putrid, rotten and impure refuse, is the food liked by the Tamasic."
Bhagavad Gita, 17-10

Tamasic Behaviour

A tamasic diet benefits either body nor mind.  It makes a person dull and lazy, lacking in high ideals, purpose, and motivation.  Such individuals tend to suffer from chronic ailments and from depression.  Over-eating is tamasic.

Purity - Sattva

The Yogic diet consists of sattvic foods that calm the mind and sharpen the intellect.  These are pure, wholesome, and naturally delicious, without preservatives or artifical flavourings.  They include fresh and dried fruits and berries, pure fruit juices, raw or lightly cooked vegetables, salads, grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, wholemeal breads, honey, fresh herbs, herbal teas, and dairy products such as milk and butter.  A sattvic diet is easily digested and supplies maximum energy, increasing vitality, strength, and endurance.  It will help to eliminate fatigue, even for those who undertake strenuous and difficult work.  Yogis believe that people's food preferences reflect their level of mental purity, and that these preferences alter as they develop spiritually.

Sattvic Foods

"The foods which increase life, purity, strength, health, joy, and cheerfulness, which are savory and oleaginous, substantial and agreeable, are dear to the sattvic people."
Bhagavad Gita, 17-8

Sattvic Behaviour

A sattvic diet brings purity and calmness to the mind, and is both soothing and nourishing to the body.  It promotes cheerfulness, serenity, and mental clarity, and helps to maintain mental poise and nervous equilibrium throughout the day.

The Rules of Eating
"Purity of mind depends on purity of food." - Swami Sivananda
  • Try to keep your meals on a regular schedule, but if you do not feel hungry at meal time, fast until the next meal.

  • Eat slowly, and savour your food.  Chew it thoroughly, remembering that digestion begins in the mouth.

  • Eat only four or five different foods at one meal.  Complex mixtures are difficult to digest.  Do not snack between meals.

  • Do not overload your system.  Fill half the stomach with food, one quarter with liquid, and leave the rest empty.

  • Maintain a peaceful attitude during the meal.  Try to eat in silence.

  • Change your diet gradually.

  • Before you eat, remember God, who dwells in all foods and who bestows all bounties.

  • Try to fast for one day a week.

  • Eat at least one raw salad every day.

  • Eat to live - don't live to eat.

Source from Yoga Mind & Body by Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centre