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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.

 

Eka Pada Rajakapotasana - One Legged King Pigeon Pose

 Eka Pada Rajakapotasana is the first of four King pigeon poses, and is considered a movement of grace and beauty.  In its simplest form, One Legged King Pigeon (Pigeon I) is accessible to beginners with experience, but as one begins to practice more difficult variations it is considered an intermediate and advanced pose.  Eka Pada is considered a good first pose for the other three King Pigeon poses, and is usually integrated into more advanced practices.  For example, One Legged Pigeon is considered an important precursor to Kapotasana for opening the body up for that final expression.

 There are many areas of the body that One Legged King Pigeon helps the practitioner focus on, and they include stretching the thighs,  hips and groin.  The pose also stretches the abdomen, thereby stimulating the abdominal organs, while stretching and opening the chest, shoulders and neck.  This last area opens up the heart center and helps one facilitate deeper breathing.

 There are many poses that the practitioner may prepare for One legged Pigeon with, and they include Baddha Konasana (Bound Ankle Pose), Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclined Bound Ankle Pose), Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose), Gomukhasana (Cow Face Pose), Setu Bandha (Bridge Pose), Supta Virasana (Reclined Hero Pose),  Utthita Trikonasana (Triangle Pose), Virasana (Hero Pose), and Vriksasana (Tree Pose).

Eka Pada Rajakapotasana can be very difficult, especially if one has had previous injuries, and great care should be taken to know the limits of one's own body.  People with tight hips or thighs, knee injuries, ankle injuries or sacrioliac injuries should practice great caution in relation to Eka Pada Rajakapotasana, and should avoid this asana.  If the practioner is having a hard time allowing the outside front leg hip to touch the ground, one may also find the need to support the outside hip with a cushion or folded blanket.

Eka Pada Rajakapotasana can be found on our Advanced DVD here: The Goddess Series : Advanced.

 

Kapotasana - King Pigeon Pose

 

The full expression of Kapotasana

 

Kapotasana, or "King Pigeon Pose",  receives its name from the Sanskrit words Kapota ("Pigeon") and asana ("posture" or "seat"). It is a beautiful and graceful pose, no matter what variation you choose to practice it in. It is also a position that can demand a lot of flexibility from the body, so care should be taken when attempting to embrace the full expression of this pose.

 

This pose is very thorough and affects many different areas of the practitioner's anatomy. It stretches the entire front of the body, beginning with the ankles, thighs and groin.  It then reaches up through the abdomen where it also stimulates the abdominal organs.  Finally, the stretch opens the chest and extends all the way up through the throat. It also stretches the deep hip flexors while strengthening the back muscles, making this a pose that is very good for posture. 

 

There are many poses that can be moved through before entering Kapotasana. including Virasana ("Hero Pose"), Bhujangasana ("Cobra Pose"), Dhanurasana ("Bow Pose"), Urdhva Dhanurasana ("Upward Facing Bow Pose"), Setu Bandha ("Bridge Pose") , or Supta Virasana ("Reclining Hero Pose").

 

Kapotasana can then be followed by poses like Balasana ("Child's Pose"), Adho Mukha Svanasana ("Downward Facing Dog"), Bharadvaja's Twist, or Pasasana ("Noose Pose"). Kapotasana is considered an advanced pose, and is not recommended for people suffering from chronic back pain or high or low blood pressure.

 Kapotasana can be found on our Advanced DVD here: The Goddess Series : Advanced.

Joined Prasarita Padottanasana - Wide Leg Forward Bend

 

 The Pose shown is a variation of Prasarita Podottanasana 

    Padottanasana, or "Wide Legged Forward Bend", is a Great pose for Sattva - "purity", literally "existence, reality" in Sanskrit.  Known for soothing the heart and mind while developing rootedness and balance, the anatomical focus of this pose includes the brain, liver, kidneys, spine, hamstrings, calves, hips, groin area, and knees. 

     The benefits of this pose are multi-fold, as it strengthens and stretches the inner and back legs and the spine while toning the abdominal organs.  It also calms the brain and allows for a positive meditative state while holding the pose for 1 minute to 90 seconds.

     This position is usually done toward the end of a series of standing poses like Adho Mukha Svanasana ( Downward Facing Dog Pose) or Uttanasana ( Intense Forward Bending Pose), and can be entered directly through Tadasana (Mountain Pose).

   There are many good follow-up poses for this Prasarita Padottanasana, including Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle Pose), Bakasana (Crane Pose) , Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend) , Sirsasana (Head Stand)  or Utthita Parsvakonasana or (Extended Side Angle Pose).

 

 

 

 

The Right to Shine

Just last week, a video of beautiful Briohny Kate-Smyth was released by Equinox and became the subject of many complicated conversations surrounding something I feel is so simple and so vital: our birthright. Our birthright to shine with the radiance of a thousand stars, to follow our bliss and express ourselves exactly as our hearts command.      

Marianne Williamson comes to mind:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.   

While often the message in the media today encourages us to "set our spirits free," we come to discover that it is in word only and that when we actually do summon the courage to loose our societally imposed fetters and truly, authentically express ourselves, we are judged, and we are condemned. Others' insecurities and fears are projected onto those whose innocent, playful, childlike instincts lead them to do exactly what each of us was meant to do, express our creativity and our innermost joy that arises from our soul essence, our true nature.

Integrity means to align oneself with one's truth, to marry word and deed, intention and action in their purest states; the word "yoga" means union, oneness, bliss, it is the union of will and spirituality.  

What Briohny Kate-Smyth did in her Equinox practice was to do just that; she so gracefully and elegantly articulated her innermost essence through her practice,  and communicated pure embodiment and empowerment to the masses, to everyone who watched her liquid form move seamlessly on that mat.

 "The word ‘yoga’ refers primarily to an ancient Hindu spiritual tradition intended to overcome the narrow sense of individual selfhood, though its usage ranges from the very general to the specific and highly technical. The word is probably derived from the Sanskrit root yuj, which implies a yoke or harness, invoking the notion that when the ox and the cart are connected via the yoke, the resulting complex is greater than the sum of its parts. In its most general sense, yoga involves harnessing or integrating the forces of embodiment (mind, body, and spirit) in order to transcend embodiment."~ Alan Fox

" ... the resulting complex is greater than the sum of its parts," meaning that when we practice yoga, free from constraints, from externally imposed limits on our expression, we are able to be kind to ourselves, and to love ourselves. We are then moved to share this kindness and love, free to recognize our sameness, to embrace the notion of unity with others. We become greater than our individual selves, making our contribution to raising the energetic vibration on this planet-making the world a more peaceful, compassionate place.

When we look deeper, we start to see that learning to free ourselves of our own shame and our own judgments is the first step on the path to liberation from our attachment to our corporeal selves. Ironically,  as we learn to feel more at home with our outer selves, we are able to then travel inward, where we can unearth the treasures, the secrets that will eventually assist us in attaining higher levels of freedom--surrender, where we are actually able to let go of this identification with our bodies and embrace our soul essence in order to ultimately unite with the divine, to know this oneness, this bliss that is yoga. 

We posted Brihony's video on Facebook and were pleased to be met with myriad positive and supportive responses, confirming that women want to applaud other womens' courage to express themselves ... people, men and women alike who have suffered from all kinds of creative oppression want to be free of self-conscious judgement and move through life authentically, peacefully, powerfully. We chose one to highlight here:


<<Thank you for sharing! Cant be quiet about this one! We shouldnt judge! Our movement, situations in life, and our breath help us to discover who we are and where we need to go! Self discovery is a beautiful part of life. Embrace it whether you feel you need to Run Naked or Not. One of the best moments in life is when you can practice yoga/movement/or just walking around your house half naked or just in those panties and bra.....more women and people in general should try this sometime.......the freedom they experience from it will allow them to discover more about themselves and then in return not judge others! Great article! Pass the word!>>

And another timely excerpt that underlines yet again our deep desire for freedom of expression and a place to call home inside our own beings:

From LA Yoga Magazine's Editor in Chief, Felicia Marie Tomasko

"More than one million people (and climbing) have watched the video of Briohny Smyth practicing Yoga, courtesy of Equinox (check out the YouTube video here). Comments have ranged from the supportive to the critical, from the sheer joy of watching someone in love with their practice to decrying the implied sexuality of showcasing the movements clad in simple black top and bottom with an expanse of skin.

I have an admitted bias, having practiced alongside Briohny many times in the studio and every time, I am struck by the shared love of Yoga. And every time I have watched this video, I’m reminded of the beauty of the practice, the sheer sensuality of movement, of why any of us do yoga anyway. 

For me, it’s largely centered on cultivating and maintaining the relationship I have with my own body, mind, heart, and spirit. Every breath, every sun salutation, every arm balance, every child’s pose, every attempt at flipping upside down allows me to reset my internal systems in order to feel a sense of home. 

Ultimately, I believe we are all settling into the home of our Self. And like a dog circling its bed a few times to settle in, or a cat kneading its paw prints, the practice—in whatever way we engage—allows us to make our metaphorical bed, sweep beneath the imaginary rug, and shake out the couch cushions of our multifaceted physical and energetic existence. 

When we feel at home, wherever we are, we are free.

Celebrating our Freedom"

Here at Yoga Undressed, this is our mantra: Celebrate yourself and free yourself, so that you can be everything you were meant to be--unfettered, loved unconditionally, nurtured by your innermost heart and soul ...

Our practice was created to be a source of inspiration to all, a catalyst for freedom of all kinds, a beacon of truth and beauty, and your first step onto the path towards finding your own true home, your timeless essence and your true nature, vital, alive and filled with joy--at one with all things in this infinite universe.