How to be Free A Beginner’s Guide to Yoga and Mindfulness Michelle Margaret This book is for sale at http://leanpub.com/howtobefree This version was published on 2013-12-21 This is a Leanpub book. Leanpub empowers authors and publishers with the Lean Publishing process. Lean Publishing is the act of publishing an in-progress ebook using lightweight tools and many iterations to get reader feedback, pivot until you have the right book and build traction once you do. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License To all the brave beginners, old and young, everywhere. Contents Everyday Mindfulness . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1 Beginning Yoga . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8 Guided Practices . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18 Everyday Mindfulness Are you intrigued by meditation and mindfulness practices but don’t know how to get started? Mindfulness is available to all of us. Our undivided attention is the most valuable thing we can offer to ourselves and others. Mindfulness is a way of remembering what a precious gift it is to be alive and conscious. Everyone deserves mindfulness, but because our lives are so hectic and full of distractions, many of us are usually living in a state of mindlessness. Mindfulness can begin in the form of seated meditation and then expanded to include our other daily activities. Because meditation and mindfulness have become so mainstream, there are many misleading myths around these subjects. Myth: In meditation, the goal is a clear and empty mind. Mental fullness is our natural state. Our minds tend to overflow with thoughts, ideas, worries, emotions, plans, hopes and dreams. Complete absence of thoughts is never going to happen. As the wise Buddhist teacher and author, Pema Chodron, Everyday Mindfulness 2 writes in her book, How to Meditate: “You don’t need to struggle not to have thoughts because that’s impossible.” I define mindfulness as the ability to pay attention to what is right here, right now—without getting hooked on any certain idea, belief, opinion, feeling or memory. It’s is a practice of watching the way we think without identifying ourselves as our thoughts. Myth: You need to be a calm and patient person to meditate. Meditation practice often results in making us more calm and patient in our daily lives. However, being calm, quiet and patient are not prerequisites. Intense and difficult emotions are part of life and therefore part of meditation. We must sit with whatever we are experiencing… otherwise we’ll never sit! Myth: You must stick to one technique in order to get the best results. There are widely varying opinions on this topic, but in my view, you don’t need to commit to just one style of meditation in order to benefit from meditating. Maybe you will find a teacher and a single technique that resonates. If not, it’s okay to try a variety of techniques. The key is consistent, daily practice. It is helpful and recommended to seek out a meditation teacher or more experienced spiritual friend to guide you on your new path. Myth: Meditation makes us feel good all the time. Everyday Mindfulness 3 Meditation is simple—sitting still, breathing, paying attention to each moment. However, it’s not always easy and can sometimes make us feel downright bad. Especially at first, we become more aware of our rampant thoughts and crazy emotional swings. Old, stored emotions and long-forgotten memories can arise. This heightened self-awareness may feel like a step back, but it’s actually a key part of becoming a more mindful person. Myth: Meditation is difficult and time-consuming. Meditation is not complicated and does not require any special equipment or accessories. We don’t have to meditate for hours to feel the benefits of this powerful practice. Even just a few minutes of quiet, mindful breathing can transform us. We tend to make things feel more difficult than they are through procrastination. When it comes to household chores, writing assignments, tax returns and meditation, we’d often rather do anything but the task at hand. However, once we sit down with intention, we discover it’s not so hard after all. Myth: Meditation must be done in a proper seated position and in a quiet, secluded place. Mindfulness meditation can be done in the traditional seated position—as well as through mindful action such as walking, eating and talking. Ultimately, mindfulness becomes a natural part of our being. The key is presence. Letting go of the past and the future; focusing on the Everyday Mindfulness 4 present moment at hand, even if that moment is loud and in public. The beauty of mindfulness is that it can be with us in every moment. The potential to be present and fully experiencing what we are experiencing—life—is always here. Practicing more and more with mindfulness helped me realize that I had a problem with obsessively planning. It was becoming more important than experiencing. Plans were the fabric of my life. Mindfulness, for me, results in the cultivation of patience, peace, compassion and kindness. Now I value simplicity more. I enjoy the act of letting go of material possessions by donating or disposing of what no longer serves our little household. I admit, I still plan sometimes, but I’m so much less attached to the day-to-day plan. It’s not so much about not planning as not being attached to the plan. It is about, to the best of our ability, letting go of expectations. How to let go of expectations: 1) Meditate. 2) Recognize it when there is clinging to the expectation of a certain outcome or a certain behavior from a certain someone. 3) Remember, 98 percent of things don’t go as planned! Everyday Mindfulness 5 Glossary #1: Common Meditation Terms 1) Ashram: the home of a spiritual community of swamis and yogis where the focus is on spiritual living and meditation 2) Buddha: a buddha is an enlightened one; “the Buddha” refers to Siddhartha Gautama, a spiritual teacher who lived, became enlightened and taught in India a long time ago 3) Chakra: energy center; the basic system has seven chakras (root, sacrum, solar plexus, heart, throat, third eye and crown), each of which is associated with a color, element, syllable, significance, etc. 4) Dharma: truth; the teachings of the Buddha; the path of truth 5) Enlightenment: the attainment of full awakening; becoming a buddha; see also nirvana 6) Kundalini: the coiled energy at the base of the spine awakened through certain meditation practices; most often referred to in the tantra yoga tradition 7) Lama: title for a highly esteemed Tibetan teacher of the Dharma; similar to the Sanskrit term, guru; historically used for venerated spiritual masters (example: the Dalai Lama) 8) Maitri: loving kindness; also known as metta 9) Mala: A strand of 108 beads used in certain meditation techniques; similar to a Catholic rosary, only for Buddhists Everyday Mindfulness 6 10) Mantra: a repeated sound, syllable, word or phrase used in chanting and meditation (example: Om mani padme hum) 11) Metta: loving kindness; also known as maitri 12) Mindfulness: the practice of paying attention to the present moment; mindfulness is a way of bringing meditation into all daily activities 13) Mudra: a hand position used in meditation 14) Nirvana: the state of ultimate enlightenment; though it is beyond explanation or words, it is best described as peace and stillness of mind after the fires of desire, aversion, and delusion have been finally extinguished 15) Rinpoche: “precious one,” an honorable name bestowed upon high-ranking and respected Tibetan Buddhist teachers 16) Sangha: a community of Buddhist spiritual practitioners 17) Shamatha: the Buddhist meditation practice of “calm abiding”; usually introduced in the form of mindful breathing 18) Sutra: a classic text; the two most common in Buddhism are the Diamond Sutra and the Heart Sutra 19) Tonglen: “taking and sending”; a technique of Tibetan Buddhist compassion meditation in which the practitioner breathes in the suffering of another and breathes out the positive antidote to that suffering Everyday Mindfulness 7 20) Transcendental Meditation (TM): a specific form of mantra meditation popularized in the 1960s by Beatles’ guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi 21) Zafu: a circular pillow used for seated meditation 22) Zazen: the meditation technique practiced in Zen; “just sitting”; letting go of all judgmental thinking and allowing words, ideas, images and thoughts to pass by without getting involved in them 23) Zen: a school of Mahayana Buddhism that emphasizes the attainment of enlightenment and the personal expression of direct insight through zazen meditation and interaction with an accomplished teacher. 24) Zendo: the meditation practice hall of Zen monks, nuns and other practitioners Beginning Yoga The modern-day international yoga community is so huge and its practices, teachings and techniques so diverse that it is difficult to define what yoga actually is anymore. It may be easier to describe what yoga is not. It is not a competition. It is not a beauty contest. It is not without a system of ethics. Yoga isn’t just whatever we make of it. Yoga is a lot of things, but it’s not just anything. Although it can provide the lovely benefits of physical fitness and stress reduction, yoga was designed as a system for attaining spiritual enlightenment. You don’t have to be [a certain something] to practice yoga. Not flexible, not strong, not balanced, not skinny, not young. Not anything! It’s a practice, and regarding physical asana practice and mental meditation practice, practice makes perfect. You have to go to a studio to practice. Although there are plenty nice yoga studios out there, they are a luxury, not a necessity. You don’t even need to use a yoga mat, if you don’t want to. How to learn without a studio? Books. Videos. Private yoga lessons. Or, go to a studio occasionally but practice at home (or wherever you are) every day. Beginning Yoga 9 The term yoga encompasses lots of things besides the most common practices we see in the media, including service (karma yoga), esoteric practices (tantra) and contemplation of yogic philosophy (jnana yoga)—just to name a few. Yoga doesn’t hurt people. People hurt people. Overzealous yoga teachers can hurt people with bad adjustments. Overzealous yoga practitioners can hurt ourselves by crossing the boundary of discomfort into the red zone of pain. Know your body. Be gentle. What’s the rush? Where are you trying to get in your pose? Ego is dangerous. Yoga is safe. Yoga is neither easy nor girly. Over the years, many have admitted that they hold this belief. And then they come to my class and it kicks their ass. There is a spectrum of hatha yoga styles from the “easiest”, most passive and restorative to the most physically intense Ashtanga/Vinyasa flow that will have you sweating and shaking and loving it. Not all yoga people are vegetarians or vegans. Not all yoga people are fit and healthy. Not all yoga people are white and affluent. Not all yoga people are hippies. Not all yoga people are minimalists. Not all yoga people are young and lithe. Yoga is for everyone who strives to be mindful, present and compassionate. Glossary #2: Common Yoga Terms 1) Asana: seat; yoga posture Beginning Yoga 10 2) Ashtanga: eight-limbed yogic path; for Ashtanga/Power Yoga, et al, see the relephant Glossary of Popular Yoga Lineages and Styles 3) Ayurveda: the ancient Indian science of health 4) Bandha: internal lock; used for controlling the energy within the body during yoga practice; the three bandhas taught in some lineages of hatha yoga are root lock, abdominal lock and throat lock 5) Bhakti: devotion (as in Bhakti Yoga, the yoga of devotion) 6) Buddha: a buddha is an enlightened one; “the Buddha” refers to Siddhartha Gautama, a spiritual teacher who lived, became enlightened and taught in India a long time ago 7) Chakra: energy center; the basic system has seven chakras (root, sacrum, solar plexus, heart, throat, third eye and crown), each of which is associated with a color, element, syllable, significance, etc. 8) Dharma: truth; the teachings of the Buddha; the path of truth 9) Dosha: physical body type; there are three doshas in Ayuveda—pitta (fire), vata (wind) and kapha (earth) 10) Drishti: gazing point used during asana practice 11) Ganesha: the Hindu elephant god often pops into yoga; also called “Ganesh” 12) Guru: one who brings us from darkness to light; a spiritual mentor Beginning Yoga 11 13) Karma: action; the law of karma is the law of cause and effect. Karma is based upon the complex, esoteric web of conditions, individuals and relationships in the universe. It is not just as simple as a notion like “steal from someone and you’ll be robbed.” 14) Karuna: compassion 15) Kirtan: a community gathering involving chanting, live music and meditation 16) Krishna: a Hindu deity; part of the Bhagavad Gita 17) Kula: community 18) Mantra: a repeated sound, syllable, word or phrase; often used in chanting and meditation. 19) Mudra: a hand gesture; the most common mudras are anjali mudra (pressing palms together at the heart) and gyana mudra (with the index finger and thumb touching) 20) Namaste: “I bow to you”; a word used at the beginning and/or end of class which is most commonly translated as “the light within me bows to the light within you”; a common greeting in India and neighboring cultures; a salutation said with the hands in anjali mudra. 21) Niyama: five living principles that (along with the yamas) make up the ethical and moral foundation of yoga; they include Sauca (purity), Santosha (contentment), Tapas (burning enthusiasm), Svadhyaya (self-study) and Ishvarapranidhana (celebration of the spiritual) Beginning Yoga 12 22) Om: the original syllable; chanted “A-U-M” at the beginning and/or end of many yoga classes 23) Prana: life energy; chi; qi 24) Pranayama: breath control; breathing exercises 25) Samadhi: the state of complete Self-actualization; enlightenment 26) Savasana: corpse pose; final relaxation; typically performed at the end of every hatha yoga class, no matter what style 27) Shakti: female energy 28) Shanti: peace (often chanted three times in a row) 29) Shiva: male energy; a Hindu deity 30) Surya Namaskar: Sun Salutations; a system of yoga exercises performed in a flow or series 31) Sutras: classical texts; the most famous in yoga is, of course, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. 32) Tantra: the yoga of union (much more than just tantric sex that is popularized in the media) 33) Yama: five living principles that (along with the niyamas) make up the ethical and moral foundation of yoga; they include Satya (truth), Ahimsa (nonviolence), Asteya (not stealing), Bramacharya (self control and sexual responsibility) and Aparigraha (not grasping) 34) Yogi/Yogini: a male/female practitioner of yoga. Beginning Yoga 13 Glossary #3: Popular Yoga Styles Here’s a quick guide to some of the most popular yoga styles being taught today. 1) AcroYoga: a style of partner yoga that involves one person as the base and another person “flying” in various poses balanced on the base’s feet and a third, the spotter. It is a challenging physical practice that blends elements of yoga, acrobatics, performance and healing arts. 2) Ananda: a gentle hatha style that comes from the lineage of Parmahamsa Yogananda, the author of the classic book, Autobiography of a Yogi. The focus is on gentle poses, mantra meditation and sweet relaxation. 3) Anusara: a lineage established in 1997 by American yogi John Friend. It was rocked by a scandal in 2012, which led to Friend stepping down from his leadership role. Anusara style focuses on “attitude, alignment and action.” Some of its principles of alignment include “opening to grace,” inner and outer spirals and various energy loops in the body. 4) Ashtanga: a lineage headed by Indian guru Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, even the first series of this style is extremely physically challenging. It involves a prescribed sequence of sun salutations A and B, followed by standing, balancing, seated, twisting and reclining poses. More advanced Ashtanga practices include bandhas (internal locks) and drishti (focused gaze). Ashtanga is the precursor for most vigorous styles of hatha yoga, including its most commonly taught derivatives, Power Yoga and Vinyasa. Beginning Yoga 14 5) Bikram: headed by controversial Indian teacher Bikram Choudhury, it involves a prescribed series of 26 poses, each practiced twice in a row, in a room heated to over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. (Full disclosure: I abhor Bikram yoga and recommend against it.) 6) Dharma: a style of eclectic hatha yoga that incorporates Buddhist philosophies and teachings and a focus on Zen or Tibetan Buddhist techniques of meditation. 7) Forrest: a modern lineage headed by Los Angeles based teacher Ana Forrest. Her style weaves yogic and Native American/Shamanic teachings. Poses are typically held for many breath cycles. Lots of core-strengthening and fierce balancing poses are integral to the Forrest Yoga practice. 8) Hatha: the term “hatha yoga” technically encompasses all of the lineages listed here. However, when you see a class labeled “hatha,” it typically means that each pose is held for several breaths, versus flowing more quickly from one pose to the next. Hatha classes are usually slower paced and more accessible to beginners than vinyasa/flow style classes. 9) Hatha Flow: a hatha flow class will involve some slow to medium-paced flowing from pose to pose, through sun salutations or other series of connected poses—followed by sustaining each of the postures for a longer period. Hatha flow classes vary greatly from teacher to teacher. 10) Hot: hatha and/or vinyasa yoga practiced in a heated room. Beginning Yoga 15 11) Iyengar: a lineage headed by Indian guru B.K.S. Iyengar, who has been teaching and training teachers at his center in Pune, India, for decades. The focus is on precise, correct alignment. Yoga props including blocks and straps are often incorporated into the poses to enable practitioners to modify the pose to their level of ability. 12) Jivamukti: a modern lineage founded by NYC power couple David Life and Sharon Gannon. This style involves chanting, sacred music (kirtan) and both hatha flow and sustained hatha poses—as well as an emphasis on meditation and pranayama (breathing exercises). 13) Kids: due to the shorter attention span of young children, a kids’ yoga class may incorporate games and stories and move more quickly from pose to pose. 14) Kundalini: this lineage’s founder is the Indian (Sikh) guru, Yogi Bhajan. Serious Kundalini yoga practitioners wear all white garments, including a turban covering their hair, which they never cut. Kundalini practices—called kriyas—typically involve fast, repetitive motions sustained for several minutes. Breath of fire (quick, forceful exhalations through the nose) is done in many of the poses. There is an emphasis on chanting, chakras and mantra meditation. 15) Mysore: (See also Ashtanga.) Named for the Indian city where Pattabhi Jois taught, it is a self-paced practice done early in the morning. An instructor is there for guidance but does not lead the class. Beginning Yoga 16 16) Partner: as you can probably guess, this style involves two people executing poses together. AcroYoga and Thai Yoga Massage are two polar examples of partner yoga. 17) Pilates: this exercise system is not yoga, but it made the list because it is so often combined with yoga or taught at the same location. Its main focus is on strengthening and developing stability in the core abdominal muscles. 18) Power: (See also Ashtanga.) Derivatives of Ashtanga fall under the umbrella of “power yoga.” This vigorous style will inevitably include plenty of fast-paced sun salutations and other intermediate to advanced poses, flowing from one to the next. Be prepared to sweat. Some of the most popular teachers of this style include Baron Baptiste, Bryan Kest and Shiva Rea. 19) Prenatal & Postnatal: gentle hatha yoga modified for pregnant and post-partum women. These practices omit deep backbends, deep twists and poses done lying on the belly, for obvious reasons. 20) Restorative: in this style, the poses are all done lying on the floor in various positions using lots of bolsters, blankets and blocks to enable the practitioner to relax completely and stay in the pose for several minutes. 21) Sivananda: this lineage’s guru is Swami Sivananda, who established many international ashrams in the mid 20th century. Sivananda class begins with a few moderatelypaced sun salutations and includes several brief periods of savasana (deep relaxation in corpse pose) interspersed Beginning Yoga 17 throughout the hatha practice. This lineage also emphasizes yogic philosophy and texts (especially the Bhagavad Gita) as well as chanting, meditation, pranayama and Ayurvedic nutrition. 22) Thai Yoga Massage: this style of partner yoga/massage originated in Thailand. Most of the poses involve one person giving an adjustment to the receiver (who is usually in a reclining position), using his or her hands, elbows and feet. The focus is on energy lines and pressure points as taught in traditional Chinese medicine. 23) Vinyasa: One of the most ubiquitous styles of modern yoga, Vinyasa involves flowing from one pose to the next with fluidity. It is like Ashtanga, only it does not always involve the same sequence of poses in each class. The terms “Vinyasa” and “Vinyasa flow” are interchangeable. These types of classes vary greatly from teacher to teacher. 24) Yin: this style is all about letting go, releasing effort and surrendering muscular tension. It seeks to deepen flexiblity of the fascia, tendons and ligaments as opposed to just the muscles. Most yin posesare performed lying on the floor. Yin poses are held for up to 10 minutes each. Guided Practices Like pretty much everything in life, mindfulness takes practice. How do we get started? How do we develop dedication and discipline? Here are a few suggested practices for beginners. Mindfulness Practices Mindful sitting I recommend beginning with at least five minutes of formal seated meditation each day. Early in the morning works best for me, but it could just as well be in the afternoon or evening. Find the time that best suits you. There are plenty of free resources out there on beginning a meditation practice. Mindful eating This practice can be done anytime you sit down to eat a meal. Hover you palms over the plate or bowl of food. Think about where it came from. How it was planted, cultivated, transported, purchased, prepared and served onto your plate. Feel gratitude for the fact that you have something so delicious and nutritious to eat. 19 Guided Practices Place your palms together and take a breath, smelling the delicious aroma of what you are about to eat. Take small bites, taking the time to chew mindfully. Eat in super slow motion. Mindful eating gets easier with time. Try to start with one meal a day and work your way up. Mindful walking Turn off your phone, unplug your headphones and walk deliberately, focusing on the soles of your feet. Look around at the scenery. Pay close attention to your surroundings. Use your breath as an anchor; whenever your mind wanders to the past or future, bring it back to the present by feeling the sensation of breathing. You can also do this practice while driving, biking, running or any other form of transportation. Mindful speech Notice what you are saying. What words are you using? What is the tone of your voice? Why are you saying what you are saying? Is it necessary? Is it helpful? Is it meanspirited? Could it go unsaid? Bringing greater awareness to our voice and verbal communication is essential. Try going one full day without saying anything—good or bad—about anyone who is not Guided Practices 20 in your physical presence. It’s hard. You might not be able to do it on the first try. This practice makes us much more aware of our tendency to talk about others behind their backs. Breathing Exercises Each breath in is a new chance to let Life flow through you, to let go of resistance to the moment, to cultivate compassion for yourself and others. Each breath is a new chance to practice loving kindness, trusting the universe, service to the Earth and all its inhabitants. The importance of the breath, in yoga and in life, cannot be overstated. Alternate Nostril Breath My absolute favorite form of pranayama (breath control) is Alternate Nostril Breathing. It’s simple to do and in just a few moments can completely calm and balance the monkey mind. Alternate Nostril Breathing is traditionally done in a seated, cross-legged meditation posture, though it’s fine to sit in a chair if you’re not comfortable on the floor. In either case, sit up with a tall spine and relaxed face and shoulders. The mudra (hand position) is done with the right hand. Fold the index finger and middle finger down to touch the palm. 21 Guided Practices Begin with the thumb lightly closing your right nostril. Inhale through the left nostril, to the count of four, six or eight. Hold the breath in for four, six or eight seconds. Then, lightly close your left nostril with your ring finger and release the thumb from your right nostril. Exhale through the right side. Inhale again through the right side. Retain the breath here in the middle only if you feel comfortable doing so. Exhale through the left. That is one cycle. To summarize: inhale left, exhale right, inhale right, exhale left. Optionally retain the inbreath in and the outbreath out. Continue for five cycles or more. You can work up to doing this breath exercise for five or more minutes at a time. Alternate Nostril Breathing works like a charm to clear and calm the mind. It’s a terrific technique to incorporate at the beginning and/or end of your yoga session. Bumblebee Breath Use your fingertips to lightly cover your closed eyelids. Using your thumbs, close your ears. Inhale deeply through the nose and as you exhale, let out a long, low humming sound. With the eyes and ears closed, the hum will reverberate in your head and sound like a buzzing bee. Repeat three, four, or more times. As you do this breath exercise, bring your inner gaze to the third eye, the point between your eyebrows. The Bumblebee Breath is purported to calm the mind and inspire new creative ideas. 22 Guided Practices Next time you are feeling overstimulated or uninspired, give it a shot. Dog Breath You need to get in touch with your inner child for this one. (It’s also great for kids, as is Bumblebee Breath.) For Dog Breath, pant like a dog, first through the open mouth. Then, close your mouth and continue the panting breath through the nose. Do two sets of thirty seconds each, pausing between the sets and taking deep breaths. This technique helps you wake up and feel more alert. Ocean Breath Ocean breath is super simple and calming yet energizing. Take deep, slow, long, active inhales and let the exhale out naturally and passively. Close your eyes and notice how this creates a sound like the waves in the ocean. Guided Meditations Meditation on Breath As you breathe consciously and deeply through the nose, recall that this magnificent function has been with you since the moment of your birth and will be with you until your final exhale of this precious life. 23 Guided Practices One great beginning technique for maintaining awareness on the breath is counting. You can start at one and count up to ten (or higher) and then start over. Or, start with ten and count down. Each number is repeated twice in a row, once on the inhale and again on the exhale. Mantra Meditation There are infinite mantras that you can use. (Any word or sound in any language in the universe!) A lot of yogis chant “Om” (AUM) at the beginning and/or end of their practice. In Kundalini yoga, Sat Nam is a common mantra, which is translated as “the truth is my identity.” My personal favorite mantra is one of the most simple: mentally repeat “IN” on the inhalation and “OUT” on the exhalation. This technique is especially useful in moments of major stress. When you feel like shutting down, instead experience whatever emotions are arising at the moment. And breathe. And repeat silently: “In.” “Out.” Meditation on Sensations Physical sensations serve as a wonderful anchor to keep us present during meditation. Get into a meditative position, either sitting or lying down. Relax your body with each exhale, feeling your weight pressing down into the earth. Guided Practices 24 Feel where your body touches the ground, through the pelvis, legs and feet (and hands and head if you are lying down). Bring awareness to the sensations on your skin: the fabric of your clothing, the coolness or warmth of the air, the surface on which you sit or lie. Next, notice the sounds around you: first the closest one, the soft sound of the inhale entering your nose and the exhale exiting your nose or mouth. Then notice the other sounds in the environment… music, voices, wind, birds, the air conditioner, or whatever is there. Sometimes there are “unpleasant” sounds… car engines and horns, screaming children, loud neighbors, the hammers and chainsaws of construction workers. Whatever the sound, see if you can notice without judgement and let go of irritation if it is a not-so-pleasant sound. Be grateful to the sounds for keeping you in or bringing you back to the present moment. As your mind wanders into thoughts, stories, plans and memories, bring it back over and over again to your object of concentration: the physical sensations in and on your body and/or the sounds you are hearing in the present moment. You can extend the meditation to include visual sensations (by staring at a candle flame, photograph or any image), smell (use incense or aromatherapy essential oils) and taste. Guided Practices 25 Meditation on Forgiveness A couple of years ago, I learned three simple, powerful Tibetan Buddhist mantras for working with forgiveness. Sit comfortably in a meditative seat, either on a cushion or a chair. Breathe deeply. Get centered. Open your heart. Repeat each of the following mantras silently in your mind three times. For whatever harm I have caused others, may they forgive me. For whatever harm others have caused me, may I forgive them. For whatever harm I have caused myself, I forgive myself. Notice—with compassion, without judgement—what comes up. Perhaps a specific person or incident will arise in your mind’s eye. Or maybe you’ll just experience general feelings of regret, sadness, longing, self-righteousness, or whatever it may be. Let’s break down the mantras a bit further. • For whatever harm I have caused others, may they forgive me. This one is tough. I have to let go of control. I can’t make anyone forgive me. I can only send out the wish that she or he forgive me for whatever harm I caused him or her, however unintentionally. Guided Practices 26 • For whatever harm others have caused me, may I forgive them. As the Buddha teaches, holding onto anger only burns the angry one. Let’s quit burning ourselves, yeah? Yes, forgiving others takes more than the repetition of a mantra. Beginning the process of forgiving means beginning to let go of our grudges, anger and hurt. The best (and only) time to start is now! • For whatever harm I have caused myself, I forgive myself. We are typically hardest on our own selves. We can say the meanest, ugliest things inside our own minds—about our bodies, our weaknesses, our mistakes and regrets. More than anybody else on the planet, we tend to be our own toughest competitors and worst enemies. I like the direct ending of this final mantra: “I forgive myself.” Love yourself. Forgive yourself. Be gentle with yourself. Just do it! If you don’t feel worthy of your own love and forgiveness. this mantra will be especially powerful. Forgiving does not mean condoning. Forgiving does not mean denying that something wrong has happened. Forgiving doesn’t require forgetting. It does mean rebuilding trust, as much as possible. And letting go of old baggage around the harm that was done to you. 27 Guided Practices Forgiveness is not always easy, but it is certainly liberating and ultimately a necessary ingredient in our lasting happiness and inner peace. Metta Meditation Another marvelous heart-centered meditation technique is called metta, which is a Pali word usually translated as “loving kindness.” Metta is the foundation of all major religions and benevolent activities. To begin, close your eyes and visualize the face a special teacher, mentor or friend. Do not concern yourself with whom to visualize. It could be anyone from Jesus to your dad to your kindergarten teacher. Hold their image in your mind as clearly as possible and repeat silently, May you be safe. May you be healthy. May you be happy. May you be free from suffering. Pause after each phrase. As you do your visualization and say the mantras, notice what emotions and thoughts arise without judging. Next, visualize your own self as if you’re looking in the mirror, and mentally repeat: May I be safe. May I be healthy. Guided Practices 28 May I be happy. May I be free from suffering. Third, visualize someone you are relatively indifferent towards, perhaps someone you just met or a casual acquaintance. Again, repeat the phrases. Finally, visualize the face of an “enemy,” someone you dislike or have issues with. Say the phrases once more. Lastly, imagine a warm, glowing light which represents metta filling your body. See the light expand to fill the room, the house, the city, state and country. See it expand across the oceans until it is surrounding the entire Earth and seeping out across the universe. One last time, aloud or silently, say these four phrases. May all beings be safe. May all beings be healthy. May all beings be happy. May all beings be free from suffering. After you are done with this, release all visual images and sit quietly for a few moments, just relaxing and feeling the compassion that resides deep within your heart. Tonglen (Taking and Sending) Sitting in a meditative position, visualize someone you love who is suffering — a sickness, a loss, depression, pain, anxiety, or fear. As you inhale, imagine all of that person’s Guided Practices 29 suffering — in the form of heavy, dark, black smoke — entering your nostrils and traveling down into your heart. Hold that suffering in your heart for a few moments. On the exhale, take all of your peace, freedom, health, goodness and virtue, and send it out to the person in the form of healing, liberating light. Imagine that as they take it in, they feel completely free and happy. Do that for several moments. Then imagine the town that person is in, and on the inbreath, take in all the suffering of that town, and on the outbreath, send back all of your health and happiness to everyone in it. Then do that for the entire region, the entire country, the entire planet, the universe. You are taking in all the suffering of beings everywhere and sending health, happiness and virtue. You can also do Tonglen on-the-spot when you yourself are feeling difficult emotions. When suffering from feelings of alienation or loneliness, breathe that loneliness into your heart, “lean into it,” as Pema Chodron instructs, and feel how you are lonely just like everyone on Earth is sometimes lonely. Breathe out the antidote: belonging and acceptance. The antidote for fear is love. The antidote for envy is acceptance. The antidote for greediness is abundance. Guided Practices 30 Kundalini Rising Chakra Visualization For this visualization, sit cross legged or lie down on your back and deepen your breath. Lengthen your spine and let go of all tension and worries. Close your eyes and visualize a warm glowing light at the base of your spine. As you inhale with awareness, fill your lungs completely and feel your chest rise and your belly expand. Visualize the light moving upward along your spine. As you exhale, watch the light move back down from the crown to the root chakra. The chest falls and the muscles of the belly effortlessly contract. Imagine that this light represents your true self, your inherently divine nature. Breathe in and see the light creep up through each vertebra, all the way up to the crown of your head. If you want, you can also visualize each chakra as a sphere of glowing light at each chakra point. The root is fire engine red. The sacral chakra is marigold orange. The solar plexus is sunshine yellow. The heart is emerald green. The throat is the turquoise blue of the Caribbean. The third eye is indigo. And the crown is either white or violet, your choice. Continue visualizing the colorful chakras spinning and the light traveling up and down your spine as long as desired. Finally, release all visual images and sit quietly for a few moments. Relax and feel the peace and compassion that resides deep within your heart. 31 Guided Practices Yoga Nidra Yoga Nidra, literally the “sleep of the yogis,” is a powerful meditation practice. It’s basically an awesomely relaxing yogic power nap. Here’s how to do it. Lie down on your back in savasana, corpse pose. Take a few deep inhales and exhale loudly through the mouth. Let your body and mind relax. (It’s often said that savasana is the most difficult hatha yoga pose, although it is the most physically passive. The key is to relax your mind and still your body but not to fall asleep. Which is super challenging to do! Practice helps.) Keep your mind alert and attuned to the breath coming in and the breath going out. The breath is your anchor to the present moment. The Yoga Nidra method is to scan the physical body and bring your awareness to each small area, release tension and relax deeper and deeper. Stay at each point for a few seconds. Starting with the right pinky toe, moving through each toe one at a time, to the top of the foot, sole of the foot. Bring your awareness to the inner ankle, outer ankle, lower shin, upper shin, calf, back of the knee, kneecap, quadricep, lower hamstring, upper hamstring, right glut, perineum, left glut—then down the left leg with equally minute precision. Guided Practices 32 Bring your awareness to the lower abdomen, upper abdomen, diaphragm, left side of the chest, middle of the chest, right side of the chest. Bring your awareness into the right shoulder, right bicep, right tricep, right elbow, forearm, wrist, palm of the hand, back of the hand, each finger one at a time, and the thumb. Repeat on the left arm. Throat, back of the neck, jaw, chin, lips, tongue, cheeks, nose, eyes, eyelids, eyebrows, forehead, scalp, crown of the head. Relax every part, letting go of all tension, feeling your body melt into the ground. Imagine your body is as light as a fluffy white cloud floating in the sky. Then, visualize your body as heavy as a boulder grounded in the earth. It’s wonderful to spend at least twenty or thirty minutes practicing Yoga Nidra. If you fall asleep, don’t fret. As the Dalai Lama says, “Sleep is the best meditation.” Nevertheless, try to stay awake, alert and energetic. The best way to practice Yoga Nidra is by listening to a recording. Of course, there are tons available free online. The result of this type of meditation is true rejuvenation. Take half an hour and give it a try. Enjoy!
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