Eastern philosophy intrigues me now more than ever. Fourteen years ago, right before moving to San Francisco, I was sitting at a café in Barcelona, Spain, sharing my passion for Buddhism with an old friend. She mentioned that Buddhism was very strict and that not all those who embark in the journey succeed at finding Liberation (or Samadhi). My friend was right. However, I continued reading Buddhist texts to realize that all the wisdom from the ancient Buddhist Masters was alive within them.
Today, I teach yoga at Laughing Lotus SF, and have had the honor to study Shambhala Meditation with Alice Tarkeshi. Alice Tarkeshi has been a student and teacher of the Shambhala Tibetan Buddhist Dharma brought to the West by her teacher Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. Alice teaches every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 8:15 AM at Laughing Lotus SF with the deep faith in everyone’s ability to awaken.
After the readings, the workshops, Alice’s Morning Meditation at Laughing Lotus, and after doing nothing, I now understand that meditation is strict yet gentle. In meditation, we turn the gaze inward, we hear the breath, and we calm the mind. Buddhism is the practice of training the mind on how to be happy, and free from suffering. Meditation is science and common sense: We plant good seeds to produce good food. If you are interested in the path of meditation it is helpful to be aware of the foundational principles and challenges of meditation. Below are five steps you can take to embark on a daily meditation practice.
1. Attitude and Intention
Have an optimistic attitude, thirst for truth, and be determined to sit in silence to experience meditation. In life, everything is motivation, everything has an underlying motive, and everything we do sets something else in motion. Karmic Law explains that every action has a consequence. In meditation, our motivation is to be happy, to find fulfillment, or to be content. We take action by sitting in meditation, and the end result is spiritual growth.
2. Time and Space
Find a quiet space to practice daily meditation. Set aside a period of time for doing nothing, pausing, and retreating from patterns of thinking, compulsions, and impulses. Start by sitting 10 to 15 minutes daily in a quiet space at home or in the office. The mind is well rested during the morning. Do not get discouraged if plans change, if schedules change, or if you are interrupted. Continue to show up and remember Step #1: Have an optimistic attitude! Then, adjust according to what’s happening in your life. For example, if you miss your morning meditation, be sure to take a break after lunch and do a walking meditation instead.
3. Body and Breath
In any meditation style, we always begin with the body. Be aware of your dorsal spine. Sit upright on a stack of blankets, a pillow, or on a chair. Feel the sit bones rooted, the shoulders aligned with the hips and relaxed, the heart open, the chin slightly tucked in, and the crow of the head uplifted towards the heavens. Posture awareness will give you a sense of warriorship, courage yet stillness. Once you find a comfortable sit, start feeling your breath. If your mind wanders, which it surely will, without judgment, return back to feel the breath. Meditation is deceptive in its simplicity. Three words: Feel Your Breath.
4. Training Mind and Emotions
The essential nature of our mind is peaceful, vast, wise, and the seed of tremendous potential. Work with your mind to be at ease with the emotional states that you have, and to have the full use of this powerhouse of potential. The process of training the mind requires that you practice meditation over and over. In meditation, we develop a program to take care of our mind to exercise the muscle of mindfulness, and place our mind where we want it to be. Direct your thoughts towards beauty, truth, and goodness. Regarding emotions (love and hate, happy and sad) the more impure these are, the less we can enter within. However, in meditation, we experience reality, what is going on versus what should be going on. See things how they really are. If emotions are impure, you will gradually find more acceptance of “what is” and will discover new states of existence through continued meditation practice.
5. Continue to show up to meet Buddha
Continue to show up to meditation with an open mind and heart. Take refuge in Buddha as an example and inspiration. Buddha means Awake. Buddha realized his true nature, the essence of who he was. Each of us has Buddha nature. Take refuge in your own wakefulness. Experience reality as it is and do not be afraid of being who you are. Join a community of people that practices meditation. We are all working to see through our confusion and reach clarity. We are not hiding and are engaged in discovering our true selves. Things don’t happen overnight. It’s a practice. Continue showing up and walking this path.
Without achieving anything in the conventional sense you will make progress by having a daily meditation practice. You will understand Buddhist teachings through your own experience, you will respond differently to challenging situations, and you will deepen your capacity to be present for yourself and others. Become a genuine and compassionate human being and your goodness will generate goodness in others. Maybe you will not reach Samadhi, like my friend mentioned fourteen years ago, but you will be planting good seeds for today.
How to adapt a general yoga class if you are expecting
by Rebecca Hersh
Yoga means relationship and there is not a more beautiful time to practice yoga than when you are cultivating a relationship with the little being inside of you. As a yoga teacher, as well as a prenatal yoga teacher, pregnant women often ask me whether or not it is okay for them to attend general yoga classes that are not geared specifically to soon-to-be-mamas. There are many reasons for this, ranging from time commitments during prenatal classes to a love of a certain class, studio, or teacher. Regular classes can be adapted during pregnancy with a little guidance. Remember to consult your doctor before starting any physical fitness program.
Soon-to-be-mamas can follow these tips for general or non-prenatal yoga classes:
1. Listen, listen, listen to your body! I cannot say this enough. At this time in your life, your body is at it’s most intuitive. You don’t need a yoga teacher or anyone else to tell you what is good for you and your body; your body will tell you. If a pose hurts or feels uncomfortable, skip it. You can always ask for a modification, do an alternate pose, or practice your breathing. If a pose or stretch is feeling particularly heavenly, give yourself permission to spend a bit longer in it.
2. Check out yoga studio schedules and teachers. Gentle, restorative, and lower level classes are great for mamas. If you have time, look at the teachers profile to see if he or she is certified and/or also teaches prenatal yoga, as these teachers might be particularly helpful. Definitely stick to the level of classes or below that you were going to before you became pregnant.
3. Tell your yoga teacher you’re pregnant. Even if you think it’s obvious. He or she may not be paying attention to your middle, or may not feel comfortable asking. If your teacher knows, he or she can be helpful in offering you a modification suited to your body, and in telling you which poses you may want to skip. However, your teacher cannot give you his or her full attention for the entire class, so it is your responsibility to stop doing anything that is painful or uncomfortable. In this way, you are caring for yourself and your baby.
4. Avoid kapaplabati, bastrika, or any heating or fast moving breathes. These breaths are heating and can lead to agitation. During pregnancy your resting body temperature rises and there is no need to raise it further with breathwork. Ujai or the hero’s breath creates a lovely calming energy for your baby and is useful for you to practice so that you can use it as a tool during labor.
5. Speaking of heat, heated classes are probably not the best thing for you. If upon entering the room, it feels warm, find a spot by the door or window, where it tends to be cooler. (An advantage for being by the door: easy escapes for bathroom breaks.)
6. Moving from a forward fold to stand and vice versa during something like sun salutations or from a low lunge up into a warrior pose may cause dizziness or nausea, especially in your first trimester. If this happens, allow yourself to take an extra couple moments to come up or go down. Another great option is to step back into poses or spend time in tadasana rather than folding forward.
7. Avoid jumping back into chatarunga, especially in the first trimester. If you don’t know what jumping back into chatarunga is, simply avoid jumping.
8. Avoid closed twists such as pavarita trikonasana. The idea is to give your baby more space to grow. Closing off that space is both uncomfortable and counter intuitive. The twisting sequence of class is a great time to practice squats or side stretches.
9. Avoid over-stretching. Sometime during your 2nd trimester your body releases a hormone called relaxin, which encourages flexibility in your joints. This is to help with labor, not to help you do that split you’ve always wanted to do! Be mindful of moving too far into stretches and back off before you reach your limit. While your joints are more flexible it is still possible to tear a muscle.
10. Don’t be afraid to work your body. If it feels good, and you don’t have any medical conditions advising against it, move and stretch and sweat! You are training for one of the greatest athletic feats of all time: motherhood.
11. Avoid core work or backbends on your stomach (such as shalabasana). Again, the goal is to make more room for your baby, not condense and shrink their living quarters. You have your whole life to do core work! When in doubt, take a supported squat and breathe.
12. Use props! Even if you didn’t use them before pregnancy, a couple blocks and a strap might be particularly helpful as your body changes.
13. If you’re thirsty, drink. If you’re hungry, eat. If you need rest, take rest. If you need to go in the hallway for a break, take a break. If you need to go home, go home. This is not your yoga practice, this is you and your baby’s yoga practice, and there might be some things your baby doesn’t want to do. And that’s fine; good, even!
14. If you did inversions before your pregnancy, and want to continue to do them, and they feel good for both you and your baby it’s fine to give them a try, but remember that pregnancy is only 9ish months and if your baby doesn’t want to go upside down, wait until after the birth to return to your inversion practice.
15. Yoga teaches us to live in the moment. This is especially important to remember as your body changes. It is likely that the way you do poses, the poses you can “do” and the poses you prefer will change throughout your pregnancy, and it is best to roll with it. Try not to get caught up in poses you were doing before pregnancy, as your body is working on nourishing a being inside of you. Perhaps doing crow pose is not on your body’s list of priorities. Stay present and take time to notice how your body is feeling. When you roll out your mat, move in a way that feels good each day.
For more guidance, Rebecca recommends: Yoga For Pregnancy and Birth and Beyond by Francoise Barbira Freedman.
Don’t miss The Yoga of Family: Pre-natal, Mommy & Me and Kids Yoga Weekend Intensive with Kate Duyn Cariati, June 8th & 9th.