Posts Tagged ‘meditation’

Lotus Love Blog

Two Trips to the Lake by Josh Ehrenreich

Posted on: May 24th, 2017 No Comments
Recently I went camping in Los Padres National Forest. I had never been and was awestruck by the range of natural beauty it offered. From amazing views gained by mountain hikes to rock hopping along the river bank, it was a great weekend getting back to nature.
And birds. So so many birds. Each morning I would awake to the sounds of birds and those songs would continue past sunset. Everywhere you went you would hear birds eagerly singing out to the world.
One of those places was a small lake. Walking around it, with no trees to impede their chirps, you could hear a clear and resonant call of red-winged blackbirds perched upon a single reeds, bending in to support the gentle weight.
However I was with a large group and hushed bird watching was not the main focus. It was a party, a friend’s birthday. Lots of talking and laughing, moving fast with loud foot steps. Far too many entertaining distractions to choose over the lake and it’s bird songs.
So after we returned to camp, I resolved to head back to the lake. I wanted to experience it distraction free, with no jokes or questions to call my mind away. No footsteps to drown out the call, just sitting and birds.
Free of distraction, I was able to experience the blackbirds’ beautiful song. I could track them swooping into the reeds only to reemerge a minute later and zip over to another spot. I heard songs from unseen birds in trees surrounding and listened to their warble echo across the lake. It was one of my favorite moments of the trip.
Usually when I think of meditation, I think of it as sitting down and being quiet for 10 minutes or so. The transition from preparation to meditation is so quick that I rarely have thought them as separate. But in this case I feel as if the meditation was the walk down to the lake. Meditation was the action to clear my mind of all the distraction and to allow something greater to reveal itself to me.
In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna instructs his faithful discipline Arjuna “When meditation is mastered, the mind is unwavering like the flame of a lamp in a windless place. In the still mind, in the depths of meditation, the Self reveals itself.”
The ‘reveal’ is not meditation. Meditation is the work to free oneself from the constant distractions of the mind, from the constant wind against the flame. Meditation is a practice to suppress the mind chatter so that we may experience the reveal. It is not a specific thing that we experience in our chosen seat, it is the practice of taking the seat and stilling the mind.
And if what is revealed to you happens to be soundtracked by a choir of birds, so much the better.
Photo credit: rblood

Josh believes in the importance of moving yoga beyond the studio and into everyday life. His strong and even-tempo flow based classes focus on consistency of effort, and attention to breath. Beyond yoga, Josh spends his free time biking, swimming, and listening to hip-hop.


The Art of Meditation by Tina Spogli

Posted on: May 17th, 2017 No Comments

Atha yoganushasanam, Now begins the study of yoga (Patanjali, Sutra 1:1). Please begin in a comfortable seat, crossing the ankles and sitting up nice and tall. Bring your palms face down on your knees, letting there be a soft bend in the elbows so that they drop right below the shoulders. Close the physical eyes. Bring your attention to your breath, with no need to change anything about it, just noticing this breath in, and this breath out. As thoughts or sensations begin to pop up, notice and acknowledge them, then choose to bring the attention back to the breath. Be the observer, watching the thoughts pass with less judgment and attachment to them. Open yourself up fully to everything within and around.  

We are training the mind this month with the magic of meditation. Just as we learn the discipline of body in our asana practice, we learn the discipline of mind in our meditation practice. When we harness and focus the energy of the mind, it can be a powerful tool to help bring us back into the present moment. We can think of meditation as mindfulness, in that we are opening up every part of ourselves to sip in the nectar of NOW. Bringing the energy of mindfulness to wherever we are, and whatever we are doing, is meditation. The Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh says, “Meditation is the practice that consists in bringing the body and the mind back to the present moment, and every time we practice that, we come to life again.” The yoga practice is about waking up, again and again, to the fullness of the moment.

Meditation practices can take many different forms. We can find our focus through the opening of the senses – particularly the eyes with our drishti, meaning ‘soft gaze’ – and other traditional ways including breathing meditation, walking meditation, mantra and chanting, visualization meditation, qi gong, and many others. Any activity that moves your attention into the moment is a meditation. One of my latest favorite ways to meditate is through drawing, a creative outlet from the past resurrected. Letting myself be a clear channel, I sit down with pen and paper and draw what comes, rather than setting an expectation of what the drawing will be beforehand. So much of meditation is an openness to everything around and within us, to be able to observe without judgment and attachment, and to let the divine energy move through us like water flowing in a stream.

Our meditation practice is a discipline, but it’s important to note that we can give our practice permission to change and evolve. I like to cycle through different meditation practices throughout the week, based on what I’m drawn to that day. The moment we tell ourselves we have to meditate in a certain way, creating too many rules and restrictions, we have let the mind take over and leave room for the possibility that we will get stuck or bored. We want to look forward to, and be inspired by, our meditation practice.        
When we give our attention to only one thing, we quiet the thoughts to a whisper and are able to hear the inner voice of truth. Much of our practice becomes being able to look at ourselves completely, the dark and the light, and making peace with all of it. In this way, we accept both sides of ourselves, body and mind working together, the two unite and become one. Those more negative things that have been buried tend to re-surface here. Embarking on any meditation practice takes a warrior strength of heart. We come as we are, and practice embracing our emotions – including the negative ones – with the energy of mindfulness. As Thich Nhat Hanh says, we embrace our emotions with the same love as a mother to a child, or big sister to little sister. Not denying, not judging, but with a level of understanding. This is how we begin to find freedom through our humanity, the freedom that comes from looking deeply, recognizing our wounds, and beginning the process of healing. As we heal ourselves, we heal the world. By living peace within, we manifest peace without. Namaste!

Tina developed a deep love for quieting the body and mind during her time living in one of the loudest cities. Yoga found Tina in 2007 while she was living in New York, and the practice quickly became her sanctuary amidst all of the hustle.

She believes in the transformative process of yoga, with its ability to bring us back into our bodies and breath, and stretch our mental limitations of what we think is possible – both on and off the mat. Her mantra is to come as you are, and observe what unfolds. Tina’s classes are thoughtful and intentional, sharing inspiration from her personal practice and life.

Tina is a 250 RYT, and a graduate from Laughing Lotus in New York and San Francisco. When she is not on the mat, you can find her in nature, exploring photography, and hanging with her animal friends! She is very grateful to be a part of the Laughing Lotus community of the east and west, and is thankful for this space to share her heart and energy with you.


The Source

Posted on: June 22nd, 2016 No Comments

by Genevieve McClendon

HEART-26

The Source
The lovely melody of a flute
is found neither in the instrument
nor in the player’s fingers.
You might say it comes from the composer’s heart,
but if you opened his heart
you would find no melody.
Where, then, is the source?
It is beyond—in the supreme cosmic Energy
which the ego will never know.
Only if you act from your heart
will you know life’s divine power.
-Amma

When we are born our heart is one of the first organs to develop along with the spinal cord, its beat setting the tone of our lives. We are then born into the world and given the constant rhythm of breath, synchronizing all the sounds and tones of life force. Nada yoga is the union through sound, inner transformation through sound and deeper listening. We honor them as the source and vibration of Om (also know as AUM, broken up into three letters) and anahata, the sound that is always in you, the vibration within the sound, the sound within the sound. It is the vibration within each cell of our being. Nada yoga is to feel the sound of God within us.

This past week I went to visit Amma, the “Hugging Saint” at her ashram in San Ramon. Being there was like being bathed in a celebration and party of blessed sounds and an intoxicating vibration of omnipresent love. Whenever first entering Amma’s ashram there is a restoring of harmony within my inner sounds as I receive all vibrations and sounds of the temple. It takes moments to synchronize myself with her loving presence and the sounds of chanting, repeating mantras, and the vibrations of all the people. There is a change in the atmosphere when a true Guru is present. The vibrating sound of the crown chakra and OM is everywhere. Communing with the Guru I am left feeling focused and relaxed. A feeling of hOMe.

As I was sitting in my seat waiting for my turn to receive a divine Amma hug I was mesmerized by her japa, or repetition in hugging one being after another. To me it was as if each hug was a mantra on a mala bead. And these aren’t just hugs, she snuggles you into arms with all her divine love and it’s as if a thunderbolt of love moves through your body. This alters your vibrational field and awareness. I could feel my heart’s capacity expand and my energy cleansed. Being in her energetic vibrational field I could feel all the cells in my body shift by the immense love she was radiating. Helping tune every one of us back into who we really are. Showering everyone in the purest vibrations of love. Restoring our hearts divine rhythm and tone. Shedding pain and suffering.

Patanjali states, “vibration is still there in the mind in an unmanifested condition. Scientifically, we can say that when manifested objects are reduced to their unmanifested condition, they go back to the atomic vibration. Nobody can stop that atomic vibration.” The omnipresent vibration of love is never changing – it’s always constant. Whether it’s through chanting mantras, thinking good thoughts, giving silent empathy, prayer, singing your heart out, dancing, being in nature, visiting a Guru, laughing with friends, we are given the opportunity to vibrate with our truest self, the sounds of divine love. The rhythm of our heart, the tide of our breath, the sound of divinity that vibrates inside and outside of us are reflections to the ever present Om and love in the universe. Nada yoga transforms our inner and outer sounds into love, vibrating our truest self. Sending waves and sounds of love from me to you through this blog. Om Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu Om Shanti Shanti Shanti

“Your heart is the real temple. It is there you must install god, good thoughts are the flowers, good actions the worship, good words the hymns, love, the divine offering.”
-Amma

Genevieve is committed to serving and helping others come into their best self. She is a compassionate teacher that invites all her students to live their truth and celebrate who they are as they are. She is a passionate Reiki Master/Teacher. Genevieve also teaches Restorative yoga with Reiki at Laughing Lotus on Friday from 6:45-8:00pm and Sunday from 6:15-7:30. To learn more, please visit her website at www.InLightandSoul.com


The Music of the Soul

Posted on: June 8th, 2016 No Comments

by Robin Wilner

RW-dancer pose

I came into the world with music in my veins. Genetics seemed to predetermine my future profession as a dancer/singer – grandma was a symphony pianist, grandpa was a cantor, mom played guitar, sang and taught music in elementary schools. So it’s no wonder that I was drawn to music as a means of expressing myself – physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Our family sang traditional prayers together during the holidays; pop music always bellowed from the car stereo or at home during dinner; a classical pianist accompanied my daily dance classes. From as far back as I can remember, music and dance were integral part of my life. Movement and singing were a means of connecting to the world from a very young age, making sense of the overwhelming feelings that accompany young adulthood, and articulating myself as a creative being as I matured.

Music is a universal language, it touches people of all different races and creeds and social backgrounds. The piercing beauty of an opera singer’s soprano can bring a room to tears; a rock and roll band can inspire entire generations towards creating change; a drumbeat builds anticipation, church bells signify joyous celebration, the cello may accompany a somber affair. What we hear has the power to affect how we feel, and music itself can break through barriers. And so it is that many spiritual practices seek higher states of consciousness through sound.
The “yoga of sound” or Nada Yoga, is a meditative practice that involves deep internal listening for the sacred sound of the Divine within – known as the anahata nada. Through purification of the mind, one might tap into the central energy channel (sushumna) and begin to hear this unstruck sound in the ear of the heart.

While this intense practice can be challenging, a more accessible practice for the modern yogi is the ahata nada yoga practice, which involves listening to external sounds. All life creates its own music – the whisper of the wind or crashing of waves, the chirping of birds and buzzing of bees, the rustling of leaves or a crackling fire, a giggling child. Whether we listen to nature or the soulful melodies of voices and instruments in harmony, we can strengthen our ability for internal listening and concentration and, in essence, experience more peace and tranquility.

Whether I’m feeling joy, sadness, anxiety, fear, anticipation, or exhilaration, music has always been my greatest companion. There are songs whose poetic lyrics force me to sing along. As soon as I hear a fierce pulsating rhythm, my hips start to sway and I feel the intense desire to move. Sometimes I simply need to be still and listen, and it’s the graceful harmony of bells and strings that bring me to a state of quiet calm. Other times, I come to sit at my harmonium and chant various names of the Divine in the spiritually charged language of Sanskrit. The droning of the chords creates a soothing vibration and the melodies somehow write themselves.

Sound is merely vibration….vibration is energy…and energy is life force, which connects all living things. A series of sounds in harmony can create a portal for our spiritual healing. Whether you croon, chant, play an instrument, clap, tap, boogie or rap, let your heart resonate with the rhythm of your soul. The more we can open our outer and inner ears to the vibrations of Life, the greater our capacity to enjoy it. As the late Robin Williams said, “You know what music is? God’s little reminder that there’s something else besides us in this universe; harmonic connection between all living beings, everywhere, even in the stars.”

Robin Wilner is a former Broadway dancer/singer/actress who took a leap of faith, moved to the west coast, and is devoted to teaching and practicing yoga. Mixing her dance background with a love of chanting, meditative healing, and philosophy, she strives to lead her students to a state of being that reflects their own inner radiance. Flow with Robin on Mondays & Fridays at 12pm, Tuesdays & Thursdays at 9am, Fridays at 5:30pm or Sundays at 10am.


Tree Pose

Posted on: May 25th, 2016 1 Comment
by Ella Ben-Zvi

ella

My eyes were burning with unbearable pain, it felt like they were going to pop out of their holes! They were sore and itchy and my head was pounding to the point I could barely think. After my lasik surgery, the doctor instructed me to stay in a dark room, cover my eyes with patches and every 4 hours put eye drops that made my face twitch. For a full week I didn’t see anything and couldn’t do anything – it was torture!

On the morning of the seventh day I removed the patches, letting my eyes slowly readjust to the light. I walked outside for the first time after a week and couldn’t believe what I found there – a Rosewood tree, standing in front of my house, high and proud, growing into the sky, with its branches and leaves swinging in the wind, creating endless shades of green as they drop shadow and reveal the light interchangeably. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen in my life!

I realized that I had walked by this tree every day for the past five years and not once noticed its beauty! On that morning, with my new set of eyes, I could suddenly see it. I stood there, staring at the tree, mesmerized by the play of light stroking the leaves as they throw shadows on one another, and simply unable to take my eyes off it. It was astounding! How come I never noticed it before? Despite the harsh pain, I was so happy I did the surgery that allowed me to see all these details! A cheerful feeling filled my heart, as I woke up from all the suffering into this bliss.

The morning after, as I left my house and looked up at the tree again, I noticed that it was still pretty, but not as stunning as yesterday. I couldn’t really understand why – my eyesight was a perfect 20/20 now, why couldn’t I see the tree like yesterday? Was the sunlight different? Was I different? A wave of disappointment washed over my heart. The days passed, I woke up each morning, left the house, walked by the tree and went to work, no longer paying attention to the leaves and their shapes, but the image of the miraculous tree had remained vivid in my mind.

A few years later, when I heard the term Samadhi for the first time, I knew that was it! Samadhi, simply translated to bliss, is the last step in the path of eight limbs in the Yoga sutras of Patanjali. Samadhi is a meditative state of total absorption, where awareness is completely present in the moment. In his book Freedom, Love, and Action, Jiddu Krishnamurti said that if you never meditated in your life “You are like the blind man in a world of bright colors”. I know I was blind before, but I also didn’t know how to see again…

The last three limbs of the Yoga Sutras are the three stages of meditation.The first one is Dharana – concentration or single-minded focus – the stage in which one trains the mind to be centered on one thing. The second step is Dhyana – the state of meditation – and the third one is Samadhi – the bliss. I started in the end, in Samadhi, but because I didn’t walk the entire path to get there, I didn’t know how to reach it again.

So I started practicing Dharana and discovered that there are thousands of techniques to train your brain, from gazing at one object to gazing at your third eye, from using visualization to gesturing mudras, from repeating mantras to looking at yantras, so I chose one and started practicing daily. And let me tell you, it is so hard! My thoughts keep wandering all over, the minutes feel like hours, my eyes blink, the seat is uncomfortable and my shoulders hurt. I feel restless and agitated and just can’t wait for it to be over! Sometimes it really feels like torture, just like recovering from lasik… Without realizing it, I had been practicing intensive meditation in a dark room for a whole week while my eyes were healing, so I know it is worth it, because sometimes, in rare mornings, it just flows. I get into the zone where time loses its meaning and only the now exists. Everything is quiet in my mind and joy spreads from my heart to every part of my body. And when the gong rings and I open my eyes, everything is bright and beautiful, a smile is lifted up from the corner of my lips, I take a big breath in and start my day with a blissful taste of Samadhi.

The stage that takes us from Dharana to Samadhi is the hardest to explain, like a riddle in the middle, Dhyana is left unsolved. Almost like describing what love is or how it feels to swim in the ocean, it is really difficult to illustrate what meditation is. So many words had been written about meditation, but nothing can really depict it. Like love, meditation is something that needs to be personally experienced, and like love, we tend to see it as serious and complex. But, as Krishnamurti writes: “Meditation is really very simple. We complicate it. We weave a web of ideas around it, what it is and what it is not. But it is none of these things. Because it is so very simple, it escapes us”. Simple, but not easy….

The practice of Dharana is to focus the mind on one point and concentrate on one thought at a time. This practice has an important side effect – it creates a space between one thought and the next, and with time, this gap grows wider and longer. This space which we can’t see is Dhyana. Krishnamurti defines it as the moment “When the heart enters into the mind”. In other words, Meditation is the time when there is enough space between the thoughts for the heart to enter. “When the thought is silent there is emptiness… Empty – and therefore utterly open”.

Meditation is clearing space, emptying out, opening up. This emptiness is the state of Dhyana that allows us to experience Samadhi. I now understand that it wasn’t the eye surgery that sharpened my vision and enabled me to see – it was the time spent in the darkness that emptied my mind. One of my teachers used to say that instead of looking for our place in the world, we should try to make more space for the world inside ourselves. After seven days in a dark room, I had enough space for one tree to manifest in its full glory, and with practice I hope to create enough space for the whole world.

Ella is grateful to share her love to the magical power of yoga. In her classes she encourages to listen to the wisdom of the body, and let the intuition guide the way. Join her to Lotus Basics on Monday and Wednesday at 8:30pm, and Thursday at 10:45am. Ella also teaches Lotus Yin on Wednesday at 4pm, and live music flow aka Friday Night Live!


This Too, This Too, This Too

Posted on: May 18th, 2016 1 Comment

by Laura

adrha

Ten thoughts on my current meditation practice in honor of Meditation Month at Laughing Lotus!

One:

This morning I cleared out a space in my storage closet by the water heater, pulled my bolster in, sat down, and closed my eyes.

Two:

Yesterday, I didn’t meditate.

Three:

I’m in week 4 of an 8-week mindfulness meditation class. The first week when we were assigned a body scan meditation as homework, much to my surprise, I cried, became despondent, and refused to do it. Such a wild swirl of emotion!

Four:

I read that meditation can decrease inflammation at a cellular level and increase the gray matter of our brains. I’m interested in the cooling and calming of my cells. I’m interested in the gray matter of my brain. And that’s just for starters.

Five:

I’m also re-reading my very dog-eared copy of Jack Kornfield’s beautiful and practical guide to meditation, “A Path With Heart.” If you are interested in meditation, I highly recommend it. He writes this of meditation practice: “each of us experiences whatever arises again and again as we let go, saying ah this too. That simple phrase: this too, this too, this too.”

Six:

I have a meditation app on my phone that is mostly just a timer with an alarm that sounds like a meditation bowl. I like it, though, because it has no other function than to sit beside me while I meditate. It will remind me that I have a “meditation streak” of zero days from time to time. It also records how many hours I’ve meditated while using it as my timer. I have meditated for 9 hours and 40 minutes since I downloaded it, which strikes me as funny: it seems like a lot and like nothing at all.

Of course, the beautiful and essential thing about meditation is that it isn’t quantifiable. It is stillness and fire and quiet and explosions and breath and all of the invisible work inside of our cells. It is ferociously qualitative, giving a very specific texture to our relationship with the present moment.

Seven:

If I’ve learned anything about meditation recently it’s that sometimes when you sit with yourself unpleasant things arise. That is where the phrase, “This too…” comes in. Because the unpleasant passes just as the pleasant does. When I really, really believe that truth then the result of meditation is a certain softness that arises where otherwise I would have the hardest edges. Sometimes the result of meditation is that I feel no distinction between the air and my skin.

I find myself with that simple phrase, this too, or some version, as an echo in my mind these last few days. This echo encourages me to stand just a bit longer in front of a piece of art and really look at it. It lets me bike against the wind with the fog rolling in and not struggle against the cold and the frustration. It inspires me to walk through my neighborhood at dusk with no destination in mind. This too, this too, this too, my body remembers even when I don’t consciously say the words. There is no end result I’m aiming for; it’s simply a way to be.

Eight:

One of my favorite meditations recently was accompanied by a mudra (a symbolic and meditative gesture of the hands). It is called the Pushan Mudra. In your right hand you connect the thumb, pointer finger, and middle finger. In your left hand you connect the thumb, middle finger, and ring finger. While sitting in a cross legged position, allow the backs of your hands to rest on the tops of your legs and keep this connection of the fingertips. While you inhale, imagine that your right hand is drawing in everything you need. While you exhale, imagine that your left hand is releasing everything that you don’t need. Perhaps even try naming what those things are with one or two words. Name what you want to cultivate and name what you want to release.

I think it is important to really think about what some of this means…we talk a lot about letting go but how can we really do that? I believe it is something we can do with the intention, gentleness, and discipline of a meditation practice.

Nine:

Someone I love wrote this loving-kindness meditation inside a card for me:

May I be grounded in love.

May I feel the love love and support that surrounds me.

May I relinquish fear and worry and find places of rest and comfort.

May I know gratitude, even in the midst of challenges.

May I find that still center of equanimity, acceptance, and freedom from suffering.

May I and all beings be free from suffering.

May I and all beings experience wholeness and healing.

She wrote, This meditation helps enlarge one’s world.

 Meditation is, of course, impossible to summarize neatly or succinctly. Our meditation practices are unique to each of us: singular, strange, beautiful, difficult, ongoing. But I do like that definition: that it can help us enlarge our world. We get to return, every day, to a practice that is never the same. We get to return to a self, every day, that is never the same. We get to pause, even for just a few moments, to take note.

Ten:

The day before yesterday, I sat down, set my timer, and closed my eyes. Immediately, I thought about who I had to email, some responses were time sensitive, others not. I thought about what I had to do later, what groceries were in the refrigerator and what I could cook with them. I thought about meditation and about how I was thinking too much, but at least I was doing it. I thought about how thoughts are supposed to be OK and I just needed to stop worrying about it, and I thought about how ridiculous this particular train of thought was currently getting. I thought about summer and the month of June. I thought about coffee, the next basketball game, my novel. I wondered how long I’d been meditating. Time felt very slow, very sweet, and I suddenly realized I shouldn’t try to rush it, or wonder about how much of it had just gone by. And so I just sat there in my storage closet, very still, very quiet, very present…for at least one whole and uninterrupted moment.

Laura grew up in the Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia and has lived in San Francisco for the past 14 years. When she isn’t practicing and teaching yoga, she is hard at work on a novel. Come practice with her at the Lotus on Tuesday (10:45am Basics), Wednesday (7am Sunrise Flow), or Friday (9am Basics)! More yoga info and inspiration can be found at Yoga with Laura on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/futurecircayoga/).


Meditation is the Medication

Posted on: May 11th, 2016 No Comments

by Astrud Castilloastrud meditation green heart

It is a new moon tonight and there is a sense of emptiness in the sky. I have longed for this sense of emptiness to be so in my head. I chased all sorts of behaviors to quiet the chatter in my overactive mind.

This overactive mind, which feels like a dangerous neighborhood at times, is what brought me to my knees and lead to my spiritual practice over 20 years ago.
My mother had been urging me to meditate long before I fell to my knees but couldn’t hear it coming from her. As they say when the student is ready the teacher appears.

I was in a big transition, ending a relationship, moving, confused, uncertain of my work and completely lost. At that time I was introduced to a wonderful women named Nancy, who was in her 70’s at the time but looked like she was in her 50’s. She had quite a story and had been a big time fashion model in NYC in the 50’s – a wild child of sorts. She was trying to rebuild her life after her long stint of modeling and addiction and in her 40’s had found Meditation. Nancy invited me up to Dai Bosatsu Zendo, a Zen Monastery located in the Catskill Mountains of upstate New York.

It was a life changing experience for me.

I was completely ready to embrace where I was, I was ready to sit with myself and not run away. I was so gently reminded – THE ONLY WAY OUT IS THROUGH. In stillness, I would continuously struggle with berating myself with violent thoughts that followed with brutal actions towards myself. This was the farthest behavior from the Yoga practice of AHIMSA, non-violence. Sitting for me was uncomfortable to say the least more along the lines of terrifying. I believed the hype in my head and I thought I WAS the hype in my head. As I began to practice sitting regularly I started to recognize the little spaces between my thoughts and I could see and feel the light of love not fear and self-hatred. I started to watch my thoughts and recognize the mind was simply doing what it does best, entertaining me! I began witnessing and not participating in my thoughts.

THAT was REVOLUTIONARY for me!

Like Chogyam Trungpa said, “Meditation is one insult after the other.” I completely understood this. If it wasn’t “you’re not good enough,” then it was “you don’t have time for this.” It was a constant roll of negative mantras and insults. As a result of discipline, which for me translates into commitment, I started to develop a spine by sitting up tall and taking my seat. I became less dependent on outside forces, I became more responsible for my action, I became much more compassionate towards myself and as a result towards others and I developed and embodied the practice of Ahimsa. I became aware of an inner strength and the ability to comprehend what was real and what was not.

Meditation has been one of the most precious and transformative gifts of my life and is what lead me to Yoga. My meditation after many years is not a formal sit today. Communing with nature and music have replaced a formal sit. These practices have allowed for me to be completely absorbed and engaged with what is right in front of me. I shower in the morning, have some tea and engage for 20-30 min of chanting. After chanting, I sit and embody the power of sound and vibration and how it wakes me up on a deep cellular level. I engage with stillness. Every Monday (Moonday) I commune with nature. I take a very intentional walk and or adventure and let myself reap the healing effects, such as peace of mind, connecting with my breath and with that which breaths me.

Sri Desikachar, a beautiful man I had the honor of studying with in India over several years and the son of Sri Krishnamacharya, talks about linking the mind to something good-subha (auspicious) and how this is a necessary aspect of meditation. He says: “What is subha, what is auspicious, is something that only a caring guide can indicate, one who knows you well enough to choose.” I am eternally grateful to Swami Satchidananda for this reminder, “Don’t think that only when you close your eyes, you are meditating. Anything that you do with total attention IS meditation.”

“All those who love Nature she loves in return, and will richly reward, not perhaps with the good things, as they are commonly called, but with the best things, of this world- not with money and titles, horses and carriages, but with bright and happy thoughts, contentment and peace of mind.” – John Lubbock

“The object of Indian music is the training of the mind and soul, for music is the best way of concentration. When you tell a person to concentrate on a certain object, the very act of trying to concentrate makes his mind more disturbed. But music, which attracts the soul, keeps the mind concentrated. Besides, the beauty of music, there is that tenderness which brings life to the heart.” – Hazrat Inayat Khan, the great Sufi master and musician.

A simple, profound & gentle instruction by Jack Kornfield goes like this:
To awaken, sit calmly, letting each breath clear your mind and open your heart.

Hari Om….

http://yogawithastrud.com/ For info on India retreat in October 2016
https://www.gofundme.com/2dux3upc Support Astud’s upcoming CD
https://www.facebook.com/AstrudMaitriYoga/ for latest on Yoga.
https://www.facebook.com/Astrud-and-the-Cosmic-Caravan-126578667531850/ for all Kirtan updates


Meditation: compassion towards Self

Posted on: May 4th, 2016 No Comments
by Yurina Kim

Yurina

What do you do when someone tells you your opinion is wrong? That your feelings and emotions aren’t warranted. That you should change the way you think. A common reaction would be resentment toward the that person and sadly in some ways, thoughts of dissatisfaction toward yourself.

For so many years I would hear the word “meditate” and draw back from it because of people telling me I should try it to help me with my mental and emotional issues. That it would change my life. Now, this doesn’t sound so bad right? The reason why I cringed at the idea was because I already had thoughts of dissatisfaction toward myself and was defensive at the thought of someone telling me ways to “fix” myself. The last thing I wanted to do at the time was listen to my own thoughts in absolute quiet! I needed distractions, I needed solutions, I needed to actively seek ways to help my situation change with more immediate results.

After many years of seeking my path of happiness to no avail, I finally caved and tried meditating. I took baby steps. First, it was by going to yoga classes and sitting quietly for a few minutes at the beginning and end of each practice. I remember one day we started the class with Dharmachakra Mudra with our eyes closed. I saw vivid colors circling through my fingers and the energy around me soft and with purpose, like I was meant to sit in that room in that exact moment. I felt like I was grounded but floating at the same time. My internal and external was in harmony. My energy was balanced. At that moment I thought, well if this is what meditation feels like, this is great! Well, that moment was exactly that – a moment that came and went.

Meditating is the hardest thing I ever had to discipline myself to do. Meditation takes incredible COURAGE. Honesty. Focus. Compassion toward Self. This seemingly innocent practice challenged me to unearth the layers of imperfections and insecurities I was constantly pushing further and deeper inside to hide that part of me from the world. I had to start listening to my own voice inside. The child-like innocence, the bruised heart that came from years of beating myself up over not being better than I was. Warm compassion would flood through me for that imperfect person I was trying to escape. I started loving that person because my unique journey, just like the unique journey that all of you have, made me the person I am today and in this moment I accept me for me. Those so-called imperfections create depth to who I am and meditation helped me learn to embrace all parts of myself. I can finally learn how to let go of the expectations I put on myself. I can let go of what I now realize as aggression toward myself. That person who was telling me I was wrong and needed to change? Ultimately, that ended up being me, the very person who I was resentful toward in the beginning.

Rather than “fixing” yourself by trying to make yourself a supposedly better person, meditation helps you become friends with yourself. To accept the imperfections which create YOU. Meditation allows acceptance versus change. Letting go versus force. Change is a byproduct. Meditate so you can navigate your current self through the constant flux that is the universe we live in.

Just like there’s no right or wrong way to think or feel, there’s no right or wrong way to meditate. We all have our own poisons and our own path we need to find and follow, which is why it’s important to practice meditation regularly to figure out what YOUR path is. With that said, guidance is wonderful.

Here are a few basic things I learned in my own routine to prepare myself for meditation:
● Morning distractions? Push those aside! How many of you check your phone right after you wake up, before your feet even touch the ground? Keep that phone outside of the bedroom.
I wake up, take a deep breath of air, say thank you to whoever I feel grateful toward that morning, feed my dog, oil-pull with sesame oil, brush my teeth, drink warm lemon water, eat breakfast, read a few pages of something yoga-related in the morning to exercise my mind, walk my dog, then I open my laptop and start my work day.
Trust me when I say, my first instinct in the mornings is still to check my phone and sometimes I slip. And on those days that I slip, I do feel off in the morning but will close my eyes briefly, take a deep breathe, and let it go.
● Mantra with mala. I switch between my rosary my mother gave me when I was younger, and a mala bead necklace. They both speak to me so I use both of them! I recite a morning mantra that I need during the day. Sometimes it’s a simple “So Ham”, which translates to “I am that, that I am”.
● I love mudras. Usually I use Gyan mudra on my left hand with my beads in my right hand. I also love Dhyani Mudra because of the bowl your hand creates which represents receptivity in the purest form to whatever path lies before you in that moment. Knowing the meaning of a mudra and using the physical act during meditation helps to create more space in the mind for clearer, non-cluttered focus.

All you need is the basic energy of life that already flows in you to experience moments of enlightenment. Enlightenment itself can be a loaded, intimidating word because some people strive for this fantasy-like place that you stay in forever once you reach it. This defeats the goal of release, of letting go. So it can be a simple “a-ha” moment or a feeling of complete and utter satisfaction. That passing moment of seeing colors coursing through my hands that I mentioned earlier? That energy was always there since the day I was born through all the ups and downs, is still inside of me now, and will still be there as I survive through what life throws at me next. These little moments of enlightenment come and go but they help you remember that the energy that creates those moments channels through you with every breath you take. Sometimes I find myself in these periods of total surrender to the universe when I’m not in a seated meditative position because the meditative tools I’ve cultivated stay with me. One example is when I’m scuba diving, particularly muck-diving. From the outside, you would find me staring at one square meter distance in the sand for a good hour. But from my eyes, I see the symbiotic relationship of a gobi fish and shrimp, the spots of a hiding stingray, the head of an eel poking out from a nearby rock, a baby octopus changing colors. Ignoring the big school of fish everyone is trying to photograph because I’m focused on the teeny tiny frog fish barely perceptible to the eye, slowly making its way across the sand. All this color and beauty made me become one with the vast ocean surrounding every part of me, and I felt total freedom. These are the moments we live for and to feel. Freedom that comes from being honest in your truth, in the space you occupy, in your present moment with who you are, just as you are.

When it comes to finding this joy, we all have the lotus flower inside that’s always ready to bloom, to show its existence while pushing through the mud. This mud full of of insecurities, worries, fears, doubt. This beauty, wonder, and mystery that is life, is present in every ordinary thing we do. Every breath, every step, every time we blink our eyes and realize we’ve been staring right past the very thing right under our nose that makes us smile, in an attempt get a better view of whatever it is that everyone else is looking at.

From the outside, someone sees you staring at nothingness, not really doing much of anything. But inside, there is so much more than what meets the naked eye. Meditation allows you dive deep, look within, and find freedom to love who you are and where you are right now.

Yurina Kim is our Marketing and Community Relations extraordinaire.


Followers, likes and the Gita

Posted on: January 27th, 2016 No Comments

by Rebecca Hersh

Rebecca

You’ll be holding the railing on bart and looking at your inbox, walking down 24th street on the phone with your mom or in Whole Foods in front on the bulk bins and you’ll have to make a decision. The decision will feel very important or maybe it won’t. The decision will end up affecting your whole life or maybe it won’t and you’ll remember this moment for the rest of your life or maybe you’ll forget about it by Sunday. Lives are made by decisions. Well thought out decisions, rash decisions, dissected, split second and decisions which are made by never being decided.

The Bhagavad Gita is a part of the Hindu epic Mahabharata and is 700 verses set on a battlefield in the moments of indecision before a shot is fired. The Pandavas (the “good”guys) and the Kauravas (the “bad” guys) are face-to-face, bow and arrows in hand and the leader of the Pandavas, Arjuna, seems to freeze time with his doubt.

“Standing there, Arjuna saw in both armies: uncles, grandfathers, teachers, cousins, sons, grandsons, comrades, father in law and friends. On seeing his friends and relatives positioned on both sides, Arjuna was overcome with pity and said “Oh Krishna my limbs fail me, my mouth is parched, my body is shaking and my hair stands on end seeing my relatives here and anxious to fight.” His bow fell from his hand. “My skin is burning, I can’t keep standing, and my mind seems to be reeling….” (1:28-30) Arjuna finishes by recounting the tremendous suffering that war causes and asserts that he would rather be killed then to begin the battle and retreats to his chariot.

It’s then that Krishna comes to speak to him. Krishna is the spark of divinity present in everyone. Later on he says, “I am the true Self in the heart of all creatures. I am their beginning, middle and end…whenever you see anything beautiful, powerful or prosperous, know that this arose from a spark of my effulgence.” (10:41)

Arjuna asks Krishna what so many of us, pulled down to our knees in agony have asked. “What am I supposed to do?” Specifically, he questions his dharma or duty. Krishna answers by talking about Arjuna’s soul, or Self. “Weapons do not affect the self; fire does not burn it, water does not wet it, wind does not dry it. The Self cannot be pierced or cut. It is endless, all pervading, stable, immovable and everlasting….this Self, which exists in everyone, the indweller, is invulnerable.“(2:23-24)

At first, it’s hard to see how Krishna is answering Arjuna’s question. Arjuna is asking what he should do in a very specific moment- (should I go to battle or not?) and Krishna seems to be glossing over the answer by talking about his soul, but he is actually showing us a new lens by which to make decisions. Krishna says the material, physical world is always changing and if we base our decisions on things that are impermanent we will be constantly thrown around by the winds of fate. In order to find stability, we must be able to find equanimity in both pleasant and unpleasant sensory experiences. Basically, because we cannot control the sensory world, it’s silly to base our happiness on it. If you base your happiness on tamari cashews from Whole Foods, what happens when they’re out of stock? If you base your happiness on your partner, or job, or bank account what happens when those realities shift? Instead, we should focus our minds and our work on that which is permanent- our soul.

In order to uncover our souls, we must find equanimity and in order to find equanimity we must train the mind to stay centered through the constantly changing material world. And how do we do that? By focusing on what doesn’t change, which is, of course, the soul. According to the Gita, our Dharma is so much deeper than our duty or work or designated roles, so much more than being a solider or sister or father or wife or an IT specialist or yoga teacher.

Our Dharma is the work of uncovering our soul. Uncovering the soul is different for everyone. Some people find it in books, or faith, or love, or meditation or walking through a field at 5am or service or the family dog, or staring at the sunset or playing the perfect 5 notes on the piano. Many of us find it like Arjuna, on our knees in something close enough to prayer, begging for answers from whoever is closest. According to the Gita, these are the moments when it’s most important that we stay.

These moments can be an opportunity to unravel our egos and find ourselves. Retreating can look like going back to the chariot or like looking at your iphone or like closing the door and every time we retreat we lose an opportunity to connect and connection almost always comes right after the awkward, painful, scary part- right at the part where we feel the most vulnerable and alone.

The Gita tells us when we’re deciding to go into battle or to write that email or to reach across the table the take his hand, we should consider first our soul. Does this uncover my soul? Of course, the mind is loudest during times of uncertainly but the Gita asks us to listen a little deeper in order to hear the call of the soul. Literally translated the The Bhagavad Gita is just that- the “Song of the Soul.” At one point, Arjuna asks Krishna- how do I find you? How do I find my soul? Krishna answers, “ want me more than anything else.” It’s easy to get lost in the sensory world- in the painful, sexy, fearful, dreamy, annoying, ecstatic, mind-numbingly boring physical world, but ultimately the Gita asks “what do you want more than anything else?

And then comes that yoga magic. Because when you’re in pursuit of uncovering your soul- of uncovering yourself, then, only then, can you start to connect with universal soul and everybody else. And isn’t that what we’re really searching for? We seek out connection by posting our new haircut, or what we look like when we wake up or our avocado toast or the things that tear us to pieces or the things packed in our suitcases or how long we can run or the places we drink margaritas and we count up our followers and likes and it feels something like happiness but not quite. With every post, we’re asking for confirmation that we’re loved and seen and matter.

According to the Gita, this path is misguided. We are already seen and loved and matter, but seeking validation from the outside world will lead to sorrow, because it’s a distraction from real Love, or soul. The Gita says “One whose happiness is within, who is active within, who rejoices within and is illumined within, is actually the perfect mystic. He is liberated in the Supreme, and ultimately he attains the Supreme.”

In the end, Krishna boils it down to this. “Fix your mind on Me, be devoted to Me, offer service to Me, bow down to Me, and you shall certainly reach Me. I promise you because you are very dear to Me.” In the epilogue to his translation, Satchidananda boils the whole thing down to 4 words. Be good, do good.


More than words

Posted on: October 7th, 2015 No Comments

by Ella Ben-Zvi

ella

“What do you have on your wrist?”, he asked as I entered the lyft car. “My bracelet? It is a Mala.” I answered with hesitation. “What do you do with it?”, he asked with curiosity. “Well, I am not sure exactly, but I am supposed to use it to count the number of times I say a Mantra.”

It was the second weekend of Yoga School and we were asked to chant a mantra in Sanskrit to one of the Hindu deities. “We need to repeat the mantra 108 times, every day over 40 days,” I told the driver. “You don’t sound very excited about it,” he laughed. I smiled back, but my heart was heavy. How can I sing in a language I don’t understand to Gods I don’t believe in?
“Maybe I can help, I grew up in the Hindu tradition,” he said. ”Really?” I was shocked! “Yes, all of my life I’ve been chanting Mantras for the Gods. I can help you choose a Mantra”.

“First, let’s talk about The Word” he said. “The Word?” I asked, unsure of what he was referring to. “Yes. The Word ‘God.’ This is one of the most loaded words I know, in all languages.” Just hearing him say the word, I felt an intense emotional reaction. He took a big breath and continued, “As opposed to “Table” or “Moon” we can’t point it out, we can’t share its meaning, not only because it is intangible, and sometimes taboo, but mainly because it is personal. Each and every one of us has our own personal story about God. So maybe you can tell me your story?”

Growing up in Israel, the birthplace of Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Bahai, God was everywhere. Wherever you go there are holy places, synagogues, churches, mosques and gardens where people pray and worship God. Everyone believes in the same one God, but in many different ways… The driver looked me in eyes through the mirror and asked “Which route should I take?”, “I don’t know” I replied. He turned to Folsom and said “I guess they will all take us to the same destination.”

“So in your story God is everywhere?” He challenged my words, “Yes, but you can’t see, smell, hear, taste or touch him!” I explained. “Can you feel him?” Silence filled the car. “Sometimes, when I am practicing Yoga I feel like I am not alone. Like there is something bigger than me with me. In me.” For the first time I heard myself expressing those sensations out loud. “Namaste” he bowed his head down, “In you, and inside each and every one of us.”

Now it was my turn to ask questions, “So if there is one God everywhere and in everyone, why are there so many different deities?” I demanded an answer, “They are all One, but they represent different aspects of the One. Inside of you, they represent the different aspects of your being. So when you are chanting a mantra to God, you’re actually chanting to yourself” He clarified. “Now the question is which one of them can help you?”

“Let’s start with Ganesha,” he opened. “I know him! He is the elephant with the human body!” I declared. “Yes, he is the remover of obstacles, so he can help you with any challenge you face.”
“I’ll take him”, I jumped. “Great! Just note that he is also the one who puts the obstacles there to begin with.” He laughed. “What about the beautiful lady with the four arms who looks like Beyonce?” I asked. “Are you referring to Lakshmi? She is the goddess of abundance, too much of her sweet honey will turn into poison.” he explained with a smile, “There is always a catch!”

“And the jumping monkey?” I tried another one, “Hanuman. He is a devoted servant, if you want to chant to him, you should chant to his master – Ram. And this is where it gets tricky – Ram is an incarnation of Krishna”. I tried to follow, “So should I just chant to Krishna? Is he the dude with the snakes in his dreadlocks?”. The driver was amused by my confusion, “No, that is Shiva, he is a dancer and the meditator! But he is also the destroyer…” Now I was even more frustrated than before, which one should I choose?

“Here we are”, he turned to my street and pulled over next to my house. “But what about my mantra?” I begged for his help as I opened the car door. “Maybe you can give me your mantra? Which one do you use?” The driver smiled and said, “It is actually a very famous one, maybe you know it, Lokah Samastah Sukinum Bhavantu. It means – May all beings…”, “Be happy and free!!” I ended his sentence. “So you do know the mantra!” he said happily, “Of course, I love when teachers say it at the end of class!”. “Start today and repeat it for 108 times every day over 40 days” he reminded me. “And then what will happen?” The driver placed his hands together on his heart, “Namaste” he bowed. “Namaste” I thanked him and waved goodbye.

The days went by, everyday I repeated the Mantra silently in my head for 108 times. It was ok, but I was ready for it to be over… On the 40th day I decided to try and sing it out loud, and my life was never the same. The vibes and the sound filled my body with joy and light, my mind and my heart were wide open. I’ve never been so happy and free.

Looking back on this conversation with my Lyft driver, I now see he was teaching me how to be open, and to try new things even if they sound crazy at first. We all see the world from the perspective of our own story, but the world is much bigger than our words.

Ella believes the most adventurous journeys begin on the Yoga mat. In her classes, she creates space for self exploration and self healing through movement, relaxation and breath. Join her on Friday nights for Yoga with Live Music, Gentle Flow on Mondays, and Level 1 on Wednesday and Thursday.