Document 183224

How to be Free
A Beginner’s Guide to Yoga and
Michelle Margaret
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To all the brave beginners, old and young, everywhere.
Everyday Mindfulness . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Beginning Yoga . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Guided Practices . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
3) Remember, 98 percent of things don’t go as planned!
Everyday Mindfulness
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
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
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
10) Mantra: a repeated sound, syllable, word or phrase used
in chanting and meditation (example: Om mani padme
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
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
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
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
Yoga is for everyone who strives to be mindful, present and
Glossary #2: Common Yoga Terms
1) Asana: seat; yoga posture
Beginning Yoga
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Beginning Yoga
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
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) 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
throughout the hatha practice. This lineage also emphasizes
yogic philosophy and texts (especially the Bhagavad Gita)
as well as chanting, meditation, pranayama and Ayurvedic
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
My personal favorite mantra is one of the most simple:
mentally repeat “IN” on the inhalation and “OUT” on the
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
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
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
For whatever harm others have caused me, may I forgive
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
• 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
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.
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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.
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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
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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
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
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.
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
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
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.