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Entries in Dhyani Mudra (1)

Meditation : Mindfulness in your yoga practice and throughout your day

Many of us practice yoga to feel centered and balanced in this busy, frenetic world we call home.  We practice in order to cultivate greater flexibility and to break down barriers that we unintentionally build for ourselves throughout the day. 

It is in my practice that I always come to truly appreciate the discipline of yoga, because it is so much more to me than just the "stretch workout" that is promoted by and served up at my local gym.  Yoga is, above all, a discipline regime of the mind - a method that facilitates the growth of consciousness while fostering a relationship of intimacy between our minds and every fibre of our physical being. Through this union of mind and body, I can manifest a compassionate reconnection to the world around me. This is why I am so grateful for my favorite part of personal yoga practice: the daily meditations that are so central to my life and being.

What is meditation, and how does one practice it without drifting into distraction? 

Meditation is the art of cultivation and understanding, as exemplified by a sanskrit word for the practice - bhavana, meaning "to cultivate," or the Tibetan equivelent gom, "to become familiar with." What we are trying to cultivate in our practice is mindfulness, the ability to perceive different aspects of our reality without attachments, so that we may come in contact with those greater qualities of ourselves that lie deep within us, helping us to understand what we really truly want out of life.  Doing so without attachments allows us to do this compassionately, to understand our role in the menagerie of our experiences without the veil of the ego to interfere in our seeing.  It was the Buddha who taught that all pain and suffering can be relieved through meditation, and therefore help us find our highest happiness within. In meditation our anxieties and sorrows hold no sway over our thoughts when we allow for true introspection to arise from within our being.  This has been my experience with meditation, and I hope that you will find the same peace of mind within you.

I'd like to share my own personal practice, in the hope that I may inspire those who are new to meditation to take part.  I prefer to meditate in the early morning and again at the end of my day when I need to settle my busy mind. To meditate, I must find the perfect environment to let my mind focus, and that is a difficult task, indeed. 

How do I begin to find that sacred space within?  First, I create a clean and quiet place to sit.  This can be in my house, in my office, in a park, or in the forest.  I have found that all space is sacred space when it comes to creating a quiet state of mind, as long as I have privacy or have surrounded myself with others who are also practicing their meditations. I do not interfere with the space of others while I sit in observational silence.  All distractions should be removed - telephones, pets, televisions, and music are turned off or removed from the room.   

Next, I find a comfortable position in which I can maintain good posture.  During my yoga practice I move to the center of my mat (at home my yoga space also just happens to double as my meditation space),  and I sit in lotus, or Padmāsana, on a meditation cushion placed under my tail bone so that I can keep my spine erect.  Keeping the spine straight is very important for the well being of your nervous system, and it will allow you to focus your mind better during your silent time.  Lotus on a cushion is the best position for me so that I do not exert to much stress on my knee joints, where I have sustained serious injuries in the past.  I also have several friends who need to sit in a chair, due to their age or their own history of injuries that prevent them from sitting on the ground.  The most important thing is that we want to sit without being in physical discomfort or pain.  Once in the proper position, I like to think of myself as the face of a mountain, quietly holding a strong and solid presence.

I personally have two different methods for positioning my hands for each practice of my day. During my morning meditations I prefer to hold my hands in Gyan Mudra - resting the back of my hands on my knees, my fingers relaxed while I bend my index finger and thumb to connect in a circle.  During my evening meditation I prefer Dhyani Mudra, to have my palms loosely laid face up on my lap, and in front of my stomach. I create the shape of an imaginary egg by resting the fingers of my left hand over the fingers of my right and then touch my thumbs together at the top, my elbows resting naturally on my upper thighs.  Thus I create an imaginary portal to the universe through my navel, a fantastic umbilical cord of energy that refreshes my entire being. 

It is at this time that I begin to use the breath to clear my mind.  By focusing on my now slow, relaxed breathing, I can focus on my own rhythm, slowly vacating the thoughts that would normally vie for my attention.  I do this by focusing on the very air that is rushing in and out through my nostrils, and I actually envision myself becoming the air that I breathe.  I also begin counting back and forth slowly between the numbers one and two, every inhale and exhale acting as a half of each number.  This way I count mindlessly and don't become distracted by focusing too much on the act of counting itself.

The idea is for me to eventually create a state of Sunyata or emptiness, a state where I have no attachment to my inner thoughts, and where I can let them come and go without engaging them. This is where I cease to hold onto what no longer serves me.  The idea is not to vanquish these thoughts from my mind, but to let them become clouds that I can passively observe from afar.

I hold my head looking forward at a slight unfocused distance, anywhere from 3 to 5 feet in front of me.  Some people prefer to close their eyes, but I like to keep mine open.  Either is fine, as long as one doesn't drift into distraction.  When I choose to meditate at home, I prefer to use a candle to hold my point of focus. When I am out in nature on the sea cliffs near my home, I like to stare at the horizon line while I use the sound of the waves to lull my mind and breathing into a unified rhythm.

This gives me the sensation of dreaming awake while looking off to nowhere. The early part of my practice is a general cooling down time and it relieves my mind of its weariness from the days' activity. It is like a stage of early sleep that allows my mind to settle into a state of deeper focus. It is at this point that I begin to contemplate in a state of "emptiness."

When I am finished with my practice (I have a delicate bell charm on my phone that signals the end of my time) I move my hands up into Anjali Mudra, or lotus with my hands pressed together in front of my heart.  Then I seal my intention with gratitude, touching my forehead to my fingertips, and I arise. Now I can let myself feel the bliss of my practice long after it is over, either to engage my day, or begin a night of restful sleep.  

A meditation practice can be taken up at any time, although I have set times for my practice so that I can round out my day with a dependable routine, what i like to call "the turn of the wheel."  My morning yoga practice begins at 7:00 am, and my evening meditative practice begins at 9:00 pm.  I observe this pattern every day, and I look forward to it with every rising and setting of the sun.  In this way my times of silence have evolved into a reflexive habit, and my mind is drawn to seek these times out for myself regardless of wherever I might be. 

My practice in the morning has a different purpose for me than my evening meditation does.  When I begin with Kundalini yoga in the morning, it is to stoke the fire within.  The meditation that finishes my practice is meant to set my intention for the day, keep me energized and my inspiration and creativity flowing. Therefore, I choose to limit my time to 10 to 15 minutes so that I may engage the day fully charged.

The meditation I have at the end of the day is much longer and meant to encourage rumination and self-reflection. It is here that I take the time to look back on my actions of the day with compassion, understand the actions of others and the things I cannot control.  I like to take between 30 minutes to one hour for this practice. This allows me to re-center before going to sleep, and to close the circle of my day. Thus, every day is a turn of the wheel, and my every day prepares me for the next.

 This is my path to inner happiness, and it is a path that leads me me through great beauty and joy on a daily basis. You too, possess this ability to cultivate deep and everlasting happiness within.  I hope that this sharing of my personal practice inspires you to seek out the boundless love and understanding that resides in the experience that awaits you. 

Namaste.