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Happiness Project 2013 :)

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“You are never too old to set another goal or dream a new dream.”  C.S. Lewis

It seems when we set goals and reach them especially if they are BIG goals – like moving/relocating, changing jobs, etc. once we reach that goal we flounder a bit.  Sometimes you put so much into achieving a particular step or goal along the path that once there we lose sight of other goals or aspects of our lives.  I have found this to be true in my case with my recent move and life changes. Goals are not wrong and achievements should be applauded; however, it shouldn’t be the end all.  Its very similar to a recent article I read by Martha Beck.  In this article she goes into detail about a couple of her coaching clients.  One client wanted to have a child, another wanted a career change.  Both clients thought these things would make them happier and more fulfilled or content with life in general.  I too have often told myself “if only I had….or did…I would feel ” fill in the blank – basically the elusive ”it” would make me be more fulfilled and happier.  When you realize that feelings are fleeting, and that happiness is a choice it changes the game.  The realization that these two women came to is something that I came to a long while back – if you aren’t sure what makes you happy, lights you up, or what you are passionate about now, setting your sights on other life events or things to achieve happiness or contentment won’t help.  In both cases above the women ended up not regretting their decisions, but dealing with the “reality” of them.  The lady who wanted a child had a colicky baby and spent many sleepless nights wondering why she wanted to have a child in the first place. The other woman who changed careers, started her own business only to find out that being an entrepreneur is demanding and left little time for anything else – so it stressed her out even more than her old 9 to 5 job did.

There is an old saying that I repeat often, “be careful what you ask for”.  What it comes down to is a choice to be happy with where you are, who you are, and what your goals are within your ability to manifest them.  Going with the flow of life means having dreams and goals, achieving them but that isn’t the end all – the really juicy bits are the journey it takes to get there, go through some turmoil, and grow as a person.  You can be sure you will make mistakes and be diverted a time or two but realize that mistakes or tough times are also for our benefit no matter how bad it may seem at the time.  Trust me I know how bad that can feel.  But you will pass through it – we can only go forward.

So my new goals, are similar to the past ones, to live a healthy, fulfilling, abundant life, being able to help others and choosing to be happy along the way.

I have also found that a large part of happiness is about judgement or lack thereof. Be kind and compassionate with yourself first, and this will outflow to others also.  If I am constantly judging good/bad in myself and others, being critical makes me unhappy with myself and with others.  Practicing non-judgement isn’t an easy task, we learn to start judging everything from an early age.  However, the benefits of practicing non-judgement are wonderful.  It enables you to truly be happy with where/what you and others are in this moment.

I have given myself this past month or so after my move to adjust and settle in trying to show myself some kindness and non-judgement.  My goals now are to get back into my regular habits which give me joy, peace,calmness, and comfort which include Yoga, Tai Chi, dancing, writing, and much more.  Everything in my life (new job, new home, new state) are my happiness NOW – not tomorrow or yesterday just being happy NOW.

May I be happy,

May I feel loved,

May all my suffering be healed,

May I be at peace.

And may all others be blessed with the same.

Namaste’

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Samahdi – eighth limb of yoga

“Children see magic because they look for it.” ~ Christopher Moore

The eighth limb of yoga is Samahdi to bring together or to merge, this refers to true union or true yoga.  Sounds magical doesn’t it?  Yogis practice asana, pranayama, and meditation to help achieve this state of union with the divine.  I cannot honestly say that I have ever reached the mystical Samahdi – but I have felt a union with the divine, a feeling of love and being part of the whole and all of it at the same time.  It is a magical feeling that truly makes you realize simultaneously how great and how small we are.  

This state is supposed to leave behind all the “I” “mine” ego stuff and transcend you into a deeper spiritual unity with all that is.  You will feel joy, peace, and a sense of existing beyond your mortal body – you will feel your soul. Once you have had even a taste of this unity that is samahdi you will view the world around you differently and realize the interconnectedness of everything.  

True union or yoga, is not working toward attaining one limb (samahdi) or one goal then moving to the next, it is realizing that all the limbs are important and work together for you.  You may experience any of the limbs simultaneously or simply one at a time.  You may advance in one area and feel bereft or lacking in another.  As I like to say — “it’s all good!”, don’t worry that you won’t reach samahdi, or become the most flexible yogi in town, have profound meditative experiences or insights into every problem.  The eight limbs of yoga are just tools to help encourage and comfort us along the journey.  If we get kinder, more compassionate, more flexible, more in touch with ourselves and others spiritually, and less stressed as a result of practicing yoga, then its all worth it.  

“The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease forever to be able to do it.”  J.M. Barrie Peter Pan

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Seventh limb of yoga – Dhyana

Image      “We could say that meditation doesn’t have a reason or doesn’t have a purpose. In this respect it’s unlike almost all other things we do except perhaps making music and dancing. When we make music we don’t do it in order to reach a certain point, such as the end of the composition. If that were the purpose of music then obviously the fastest players would be the best. Also, when we are dancing we are not aiming to arrive at a particular place on the floor as in a journey. When we dance, the journey itself is the point, as when we play music the playing itself is the point. And exactly the same thing is true in meditation. Meditation is the discovery that the point of life is always arrived at in the immediate moment.” ~ Alan Watts

 Dhyana – the seventh limb of yoga is about meditation.  What is meditation?  Is it okay to move?  How do I know if I’m doing it right?  What am I supposed to be doing when meditating?  These are some of the questions I asked myself about meditation in the beginning.  I still consider myself a novice with meditation, but I understand more clearly.  Meditation is challenging and it causes us to spend time with and within ourselves.  This can be uncomfortable for some due to the fact that sometimes you don’t like your own company.

 What is meditation?  Meditation generally involves focusing on an object (candle, or other object), repeating a mantra (silently repeating or maybe chanting quietly something like “I am thankful for my health and the comfort of my life.”), or simply focusing on breathing (refer back to the pranayama blog here:  https://cyndi365.wordpress.com/2013/02/07/yogas-eight-limbs-part-five-pranayama-breath/.

 Is it okay to move? Meditation doesn’t mean you have to sit in the lotus position for hours either.  There is walking meditation, and meditation lying down (though this has a tendency to make me fall asleep).  If you do choose a seated position – make your body as comfortable as possible with pillows, bolsters, blankets if needed to help support your body.  If you need to shift or change position during a period of meditation feel free to do so – or else all you will be able to think about is your foot falling asleep or the itch on the tip of your nose.🙂

 How do I know if I’m doing it right?  Start out with short periods of time.  Maybe sit an alarm on your smartphone for 3-5 minutes.  Then select one of the focuses mentioned above – an affirmation mantra, an object etc. Make yourself as comfortable as possible.  Then begin focusing on your breath, your mantra, or object.  As thoughts bubble to the surface of your mind just release them and go back to your breath, mantra, or object. If you feel more relaxed and less stressed at the end of the few minutes you know you are doing it right.  Add a minute or two each week or so and build up your meditation time.  Endeavor to practice daily for a few minutes for an entire week before adding minutes.  Remember you are cultivating a habit you want to retain.

 What am I supposed to be doing when meditating?  BE IN THE MOMENT.  Meditation is about being in the now – letting thoughts flow but focusing on how you are feeling in this moment, not the next, not the previous but NOW.  Letting the thoughts flow, but always centering yourself back to the breath, mantra, or object you chose to focus on.  Its kind of like giving the mind a coffee break.  Your mind/brain is constantly working like on an assembly line, feeding cells, pumping blood, conducting electrical charges to direct and accomplish so much that goes on within our bodies.  When you add the thoughts that are constantly parading through there asking, “Hello, What’s happening? Uh…we have sort of a problem here. Yeah. You apparently didn’t put one of the new coversheets on your TPS reports.” – Office Space quote – it can be quite busy.

 Here is a FREE guided meditation link – from Deepak Chopra – it is called the 21-day meditation challenge.  I have done this challenge before and it is very rewarding and helpful.  https://www.chopracentermeditation.com/Bestsellers/LandingPage.aspx?BookId=178

 Benefits of meditation include:

 Meditation can be integrated with so many areas of your life – you can meditate while you peel potatoes or do the dishes – just by concentrating on being in the moment and only on the task at hand.

 Relax, breathe, and meditate – it’ll do your mind (and body) good.

“If with closed ears and eyes I consult consciousness for a moment, immediately are all walls and barriers dissipated, earth rolls from under me, and I float . . . “ ~ Thoreau

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Sixth limb of yoga – Dharana

“Concentration is the secret of strength.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

I have been on a hiatus as I moved across country 900 miles to a new home and a new job.  So somehow it seems fitting that we delve into Dharana.  Dharana is loosely translated as concentration or fixed attention.  Recently, with the move, my attention and concentration has been scattered and at times fixed.  Scattered on so many things that need to be done, and fixed or focused on getting things done.  Sometimes I have felt as if I were digging a tunnel through a mountain with a spoon other times I have been so focused that I felt like I was on a mission from God.  I just realized that I would get done what I could and it would come together.  I focused on the next thing, and the next thing until I had the tasks completed.

At times while packing and when moving, and even when unpacking, I had a feeling of being overwhelmed.  I plowed ahead, working on things most days until I just literally ran out of steam and fell into bed.   The concentration on one thing at a time helped to get all done that was needed.

This concentration on moving has caused me to look at things that I hadn’t in a long time, and make decisions about what is important to keep and what can be tossed or donated.  I had to focus on what was needed to take and what could be left behind.  As I concentrated on moving ahead with my life and the changes I realized that if I focus my attention on one thing at a time, all the others fall away.  The task at hand became the preeminent object of my attention.

This focus is also something that I’ve noted when diving into a good book and becoming so absorbed all else falls away.   It is the moment when a musician becomes one with the music they are playing, or when an athlete gets into what they call the “zone”.  It all comes together.

Dharana is one of the last three limbs  sometimes called antaratma sadhana or the innermost quest.  It is ironic that sometimes the external changes, like moving, can spur us on to this innermost quest.  In our hectic, multitasking lives it is good to slow down and focus on one thing at a time.

One day, one thing at a time – it will get you farther than you think.  Focus and develop concentration on the task at hand, this is the first step to the innermost quest.

“Normally, we do not so much look at things as overlook them.”  Alan Watts

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Pratyahara – The fifth limb of Yoga

“The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.” ~ Helen Keller

Today, with the fifth limb of yoga, we move from the external practice of yoga to the internal.  Pratyahara means to withdraw from the stimuli of the external senses and go within.  This is probably a puzzling idea and difficult for newbies to associate or incorporate into their practice.

Pratyahara can be difficult to practice.  B.K. S. Iyengar reportedly stated a difficulty test of pratyahara is to go on a country walk and try not to judge, comment or even name what you see, feel or smell.   Sounds nearly impossible!

There are several ways to practice this sense withdrawal.  During yoga asana practice stop thinking about whether or not you should hold the pose longer, or thoughts about whatever your mind is busy with, and just concentrate on the pose itself.  Another good way to begin experiencing this is at the end of yoga practice in savasana, or corpse pose.  This time of relaxation at the end of practice is a good chance to practice pratyahara.  Take those moments to “go within” as Deepak Chopra says.   Concentrate on your breathing and let the thoughts go, not camping on any one thing.  It takes practice and time just like with any other endeavor, but the value is immeasurable.

In yoga philosophy everyone has five levels of consciousness or “sheaths”.  Think of them as the layers of an onion.  The first is the physical body, then the prana or energy sheath, the mental sheath, the consciousness sheath where the ego resides, and finally what I like to call the soul sheath.  As relaxation occurs in savasana, let the body relax and go through the layers, relax the body and musculature, focus on the breath, then let the thought process go, finally mentally looking inside yourself.  While in this meditative state you are not a zombie you hear and sense things going on around you but are not affected or reactive to them.

Pratyahara is not some mystical realm, it is creating space.  Just as the asana practice helps to create space in our physical bodies for health, pratyahara practice helps to create space in our minds and emotions.  A place between our reactions to stimuli and our surroundings.   It is a “pause button” that once practiced can be used in our everyday lives to give us pause, before giving a knee-jerk reaction to an event or circumstance.

So take pause, realize that you are more than your surroundings or circumstances.   You are a magnificent creation of God, with choices given every new day of how you will react and live your life.

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Yogas eight limbs – Part Five – Pranayama (Breath)

“The LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” Genesis 2:7

Last week I discussed Asana or postures of yoga.  According to the yogic philosophy the asana was just a prelude to deeper meditative states which lead to samadhi (an enlightened state of spiritual consciousness).  The breath is energy, prana, or chi.   Ancient yoga texts teach that the controlled breath (life force, life energy) is at the heart of yoga.   The prana (breath or life force) can be harnessed and channeled through breathing exercises. Breathing exercises have the ability to soothe our frazzled nervous system,  re-energize our tired bodies, or wrangle our wild minds.

The breath is part of the autonomic nervous system which has two parts, sympathetic (like the gas pedal in the car) and parasympathetic (like the brake pedal in the car).  The sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system are antagonists.  The sympathetic nervous system is catabolic which means it tears the body down while the parasympathetic builds or nourishes the body.  By slowing and deepening the breath we can control  or turn “off” the sympathetic system.  So you can guess the goal is to keep the sympathetic nervous system off for longer periods for better health.  Breathing exercises are a beautiful tool to help you turn off the sympathetic response in your body and mind.  The controlled breath can channel healing and regenerating energy to nourish the bodies cells in the parasympathetic state.

So what breathing exercises do you start with?  I would recommend the three-part breath or dirga pranayama.   This is probably the easiest to learn.

  • Begin by lying on your back, eyes closed, and relax your face and body.
  • Next just observe your natural breath, the inhalation and exhalation process.  If your mind begins to wander, notice the thoughts and think of them as clouds passing through the clear blue sky of your mind, not focusing or fixating on any one thought.
  • Once you have relaxed a bit, begin to inhale deeply through the nose and fill the belly first with the breath like expanding a balloon, perhaps counting to 3.
  • Next draw in a little more breath to expand the rib cage.  You should feel your ribs expand out to the sides a bit.
  • Thirdly, draw in yet a bit more breath filling the upper chest up to your collar bones.
  • On the exhalation work you way back down, first exhaling the upper chest, then the rib cage, and finally releasing the air in the belly feeling the navel push back towards the spine.  An additional helpful aid is to place a hand over your belly and perhaps over your ribcage so that you can concentrate on making those areas rise and fall as you inhale and exhale.  Continue this breathing exercise for 5- 10 rounds or whatever is most comfortable.

Energy, vibrations, and breath are connected.  Even ancient scriptures and texts state that the breath is connected to our life energy and our spirit.  Don’t waste your breath!!!

Namaste’

“If you want to find the secrets of the universe, think in terms of energy, frequency and vibration.”  Nikola Tesla

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