The gayatri mantra

 
gayatri mantra-yoga-mantra-soul

Om

Bhur Bhuvah Svaha Tat Savitur Varenyam Bhargo Devasya Dhimahi Dhiyo Yo nah Prachodayat

Gayatri means to go beyond, to transcend. That is why we pray (through the chant of the Gayatri):

"Let this intellect be guided and inspired by something which is beyond the intellect – the Divinity."  - Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

It is a prayer to the sun - the giver of life and light.  With this mantra we ask, "May our own intellect and being shine like the sun and may we each be guided in the right direction." - Sianna Sherman

Another translation, "In the name of the Earth and Heavens, may we be as bright as the divine spirit by the power of our meditation." 

I've been singing this mantra every morning for the past two weeks.  To me, it is a way to call upon the bright light of my spirit.  I pray this light to shine brighter than my fears.  May my divine purpose and path shine in front of me, and may any darkness or blocks in the way be transformed into this light.

Here is a beautiful version to listen to the gayatri mantra:

May you connect to this light of your spirit in your yoga practice and throughout your day...

Namaste <3

 
 

The Three Faces of God

 
yoga and meditation-God-sally kempton

Over the holidays I went to a talk with spiritual teacher Sally Kempton.   She shared with us her insights on "The Three Faces of God."  There are different forms the divine can take, and throughout our life we may shift our perspective on how we see the divine.

1.  The Physical World 

Have you ever been immersed in the presence of nature and been overcome with the feeling of divine presence?  When you look out at the vast expanse of the ocean, or sit in an old growth forest, everything stops and you are totally present.  The physical world is an overpowering presence, that reminds us of our place in the world.  It inspires awe, is a place where we can experience our true nature and the mystery of the divine through a physical manifestation.

2.  The Other 

When I grew up, as many Americans did, I believed in a God outside of myself.  A being somewhere up in the clouds, most likely a wizard with a long white beard and a purple hat, overseeing everything and everyone.  I prayed at night to this God and believed if I was good I would be blessed with the things I wanted in life.

In Eastern thought, bhakti yogis believe in the divine as their Guru.  The Guru is considered to be an enlightened being, and the simple presence of the divine being would help you burn your past karmas.  I was fascinated by the idea of the guru since I was a child, (maybe because my parents' friends told me Sai Baba was like a modern day genie) and traveled to India to visit some of these gurus and see for myself.

When I was at Amma's ashram in Kerala, I learned that it wasn't simply the presence that would help the disciples spiritually progress, but the act of devotion itself.  To drop the ego and bow in devotion to the other is what actually brings you closer to God.

3.  The Nondual Presence - Yourself

The third face of God is seeing this divine presence in yourself.  Everything around you is divine, and you are not separate from it.  As individual beings, we cling to the transitory reflections and perceive ourselves as disconnected from the divine within, however the nondual tantric philosophy states:

 "One grand, illustrious path of revelation and returning to our own divinity is yoga.  Yoga is the scientific art of remembering our true nature." - John Friend

This is the face of the God that has resonated with me the most this year.  From my studies of Anusara Yoga, I have learned:

  • Everything is supreme consciousness
  • Each of us is essentially good
  • We enhance a student’s pose by reminding them of their true goodness and innate beauty
  • We embrace our limitations and difficulties of the body/mind to open to our own boundless nature
  • We embrace the material world, we need our challenges to progress and transform
  • We are co-creators with nature, which makes life full with creative freedom, exciting and inspiring.
See which face of God resonates with you in your life now.  How has that changed since your childhood?  We are always learning and growing, and have incredible freedom to choose how we live our lives, and who and what we believe in.  May your yoga practice help you see the divine in yourself, in nature, and all beings.  Namaste.
 

Happy, well, and full of peace: metta meditation

 
yoga and meditation-peace-metta-self love

"If we extend the force of love, love will return to us.”

This week I led the practice of Metta meditation to the teacher training group I am with in Thailand.

Metta is described as loving kindness.  It is a practice to become better friends with yourself.  It is practiced for a few minutes after Vipassana meditation because if any past karma or old wounds arise during Vipassana, you can soothe yourself with the metta.

We begin metta first with ourselves.  This is the essential foundation of offering genuine love to others.

The practice develops in levels from:

Self Benefactor (Close friend, partner or teacher) Friend Neutral Person Enemy/ Conflicting Person

Through these levels, we learn not to denigrate ourselves to uphold another person’s happiness.

To practice metta:  Close your eyes, contact a sense of love and compassion within yourself.  Imagine that love washing over your body.  What does it look like?  Does it have a color?  A temperature?  Now imagine sending yourself that love and repeat to yourself, “May I be happy, may I be well, may I be full of peace.”

Now move on to a close friend, teacher or partner.  Choose someone who brings about a great sense of love within you.  Imagine sending the metta to him or her and repeat,  “May he or she be happy, well and full of peace.”

Continue the practice, with a friend, neutral person, and finally, a person who has caused conflict in your life.  The idea of metta is to hold a place of loving kindness even for (and especially for) these people.

Through metta, we learn to walk in friendship with ourselves and with all beings. We are planting the seeds of peace and happiness that will bare fruit with time.  By opening to the love within us, we open to the love that is there, all around us.

Some benefits of the metta practice include:

1)   You will sleep easily

2)   You will wake easily

3)   You will have pleasant dreams

4)   People will love you

5)   Devas (celestial beings) and animals will love you

6)   Devas will protect you

7)   External dangers will not harm you

8)   Your face will be radiant

9)   Your mind will be serene

10) You will die unconfused

11) You will be reborn in happy realms

May you be happy, may you be well, may you be full of peace.  

Namaste

 

5 practices for more happiness

 
yoga and meditation-creativity-happiness

"What makes you happy?"

I've been thinking about this question this week.  What really makes me happy?  Before, I used to dream of beautiful beaches far away and think, "If I could live in a place like that, then I'd be happy."  

Over the last three years I have travelled far and wide, and spent time on some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, but didn't magically feel happier.  Yes, it was different and exciting for some time, but after awhile, I felt isolated.

What I missed when I was traveling was a sense of purpose.  I wasn't sharing my full self with the world.  I wasn't helping or supporting anyone with my gifts or talents.  On top of that, I was not cultivating longterm relationships because all of my friends were transient travellers.

Since being back in the States, I've realized it's not the beach that will open my heart, it's the people I help and the relationships I foster.

I wrote this list of 5 practices to bring more happiness into your life right now, wherever you are:

1. Be of Service 

When you are helping others and doing honest work in the world, it will warm your heart.  Some of my happiest moments are after teaching a yoga class.  I feel so much joy watching my students rise from savasana.  Even if I was having a bad day, showing up and being of service to my students brings me back to my purpose of what's important in life.

2. Express Gratitude 

This video explains the value of expressing gratitude in your life.  When we focus on what we do have  rather than what we don't we fill ourselves with happiness.  When we express our gratitude to the people in our life who we admire, it is scientifically proven to improve our mood, sense of well-being and connection.

3. Cultivate Relationships

Make time for the people that really matter in your life.  Be the first person to reach out to others to create new friendships.  I began making new friends at the yoga studio where I work by asking questions to the people I met in passing or in my classes.  When I became curious about the people around me, I created more relationships in my life.

4. Make Time for Spirituality

It's so easy to get burnt out when you don't make time for yourself.  A spiritual practice can be anything from 5 minutes a day of focusing on your breath, to taking a bath, to going to a class you enjoy.  My partner has developed a breathing practice he does each morning, and on the days where he doesn't make time to do it, he feels depleted.  When we take time to honor ourselves and our natural rhythms, we can be more present to those around us.

5. Be Creative

I have the opportunity to be creative in designing my classes, through my writing, and my photography.  Because of facebook and social media, I can now even receive instant feedbac when I create something and put it out into the world.  Making space to use your right brain can be so satisfying.  Try writing morning pages (3 pages of writing anything first thing in the morning), take some time to draw, play an instrument, or sing.  You can foster relationships at the same time by inviting a friend to collaborate.

So after travelling far and wide, I found myself happy after all with my cold winters and little cottage in the country.  I know I can find joy and happiness wherever I am if, first and foremost, my needs of teaching and utilizing my gifts are met first.

 

Remain A Witness: Vipassana meditation

 
yoga and meditation-breathe-vipassana

This week I have been revisiting the valuable tools I learned through Vipassana Meditation.  Vipassana is  considered the form of meditation Buddha used to attain enlightenment.  It is a simple, but profound practice of focusing on the breath and sensations of the body.

The practice was lost for hundreds of years, eventually reintroduced on a global scale by a man from Burma, Goenka.  He began 10-day Vipassana meditation courses for sentient beings to learn the practice.  The amazing thing is: it is all run by donation.

When you arrive, you are treated exactly the same way as every other person there.  You are given a simple bed and 3 meals a day.  Without the thought, "I paid for this, therefore everything should be a certain way," we dampen the ego and use the time on retreat as if we were a monk - with all our food and lodging provided.

I sat my Vipassana course in Dharamkot, India, a village just north of the Dalai Lama's temple 2 years ago.  The first few days of the retreat solely focused on the breath.

The breath is considered the vehicle to better understand the voluntary and involuntary functions of the body.  By tuning into the breath we come in closer connection to all the functions of the involuntary body (our heartbeat and other organs that continue to work without our mind consciously telling them to).

After focusing the mind through the breath to a single pointed focus, awareness is then brought to sensations.  The idea is, as humans, we experience craving to pleasurable sensations and aversion to painful sensations.  However, there is no way around experiencing both.  Our job through the practice is to become a witness to both of them, and simply watch.

Whether a painful or pleasurable sensation arises, we learn through the body, it eventually passes away.  By having a direct experience of this impermanence on a physical and cellular level, we can have a greater understanding of the nature of life.

Everything is impermanent, especially the body.  The body is continually dying and renewing itself on a cellular level.  When we understand impermanence within ourselves, we let go of our strong attachments to the things and people around us and eventually to the strongest attachment of all: life itself.

 

What if I embraced my life just as it is?

 
yoga and meditation-buddhism-pema chodron

Last week I finished the book, Living Beautifully With Uncertainty and Change by Pema Chodron.  In the book she speaks of 3 commitments the Buddhist students take:

1) The Commitment to Not Cause Harm

2) The Commitment to Take Care of One Another

3) The Commitment to Embrace the World Just As It Is

The last commitment stayed with me and I have been integrating these teachings into my life.

What would it be like to embrace ourselves and the world fully, just as they are?  What if we were to start living without the constant thoughts of future plans to change the current state of the world around us?

This week as I realized what a relief it would be to embrace my home, my partner, my chosen career and my community just as it was - I saw the beauty in what I already have.  

Pema describes:

"Each person's life is like a mandala - a vast, limitless circle.  We stand in the center of our circle, and everything we see, hear, and think forms the mandala of our life...Everything that shows up in your mandala is a vehicle for your awakening.  From this point of view, awakening is right at your fingertips, continually.  There's not a drop of rain or a pile of dog poop that appears in your life that isn't the manifestation of enlightened energy, that isn't a doorway to a sacred world."

"Embracing the world as it is" requires us to embrace the difficulty and challenges of life.  It is the opportunity to see every moment as a vehicle for awakening.

I thought about my daily life:  What was I resisting?  What could I embrace more fully? 

The resounding answer, as simple as it was:  Washing the dishes. 

I had slowly delegated the task of washing dishes to my partner without even talking about it.  I asked myself, "What if I took on this task as a vehicle for spiritual awakening?  What if I moved past my resistance and did this task with total loving awareness?" 

The first thing I did was buy some rubber gloves to protect my hands and make the job more tolerable.  I went on to wash all the dishes I made that day, even a few more that weren't even mine.

My partner noticed, "Meredith - you've been so helpful around the house today!  Thank you!" 

I just smiled and replied, "I'll send your thanks on to Pema Chodron."

 

Your body's natural equilibrium

 
yoga and meditation-equilibrium-rest

Our body can reach its own equilibrium when we choose not to put new information in.  When we feel exhaustion or discomfort, our first reaction is to choose a new input to change our body's state - it could be food, painkillers, caffeine or new thoughts of the future or the past.  However, if we take the time to sit with our sensations and come back to the breath, our body naturally finds balance.

The body has an innate intelligence to find its own equilibrium.  When we go to sleep at night we recalibrate and feel refreshed the next day.  Restorative and yin yoga act in a similar way.  We sit with ourselves and our breath in restful postures for the mind to settle and to give the body its own space to recalibrate.

I realized this last week after taking a long flight and experiencing jetlag.  The next day I was running on very little sleep and let it affect my day.  Instead of drinking caffeine or eating sweets to lift my energy, I decided to do a restorative yoga practice.

When I closed my eyes to sit still, all the exhaustion and frenetic energy moving inside my body became apparent.  After about fifteen minutes, I began to find the stillness underneath the exhaustion and my thoughts, and over the course of an hour and a half, my energy restored itself.

Some yogis say savasana is both one the most difficult and beneficial postures.  Our more active asanas bring the mind into a single pointed focus on movement and action, but when we come down into savasana, or any restorative pose, we have to maintain that stillness and presence, without anywhere else to put our mind's focus.  In an age of cell phones and technology, it is a powerful practice to tune out the rest of the world and just be with yourself for an hour and a half.

In my own practice, I've been working with an idea from Pema Chodron:  if you are willing to be with an unpleasant sensation for more than 90 seconds without judging it, it will go away.  This has actually worked for me with menstrual cramps and headaches.  Instead of pushing away the sensation I now give the sensations my attention and allow myself to feel the pain or discomfort fully. 

When I am there for myself for even just a few minutes without judgment, the uncomfortable sensations begin to dissolve with the breath.

May we all give our body this full attention, space and presence to reach equilibrium through our own natural intelligence.

 

Why I don't need to meditate in a cave in India for the rest of my life

 
yoga and meditation-flower-india-lotus

A lotus flower thrives in a dirty, muddy pond.  It grows from the dirt and the muck, rises to the surface and blossoms into a bright, beautiful flower. In ancient hinduism, this was a metaphor for how to live a spiritual life.  The lotus flower represented the pureness and beauty of devoting one's life to spirituality, while the dirt and muck represented the material world.  The material world was something to rise above, in order to blossom into the heavens, to attain oneness with the divine.

For many years people linked the lotus flower with this metaphor, and thought, "I must rise above the material world in order to attain enlightenment and oneness with the divine."

Many sadhus and seekers left the material world entirely to meditate in caves in the Himalayas to find God.

Tantric Buddhism however, takes a perspective more similar to a botanist:  The lotus flower thrives on the dirt and the muck in the pond.  In fact, without the dirt and the muck, the lotus flower would not even exist.  

This was an entirely new way to look at the world for me.  I began to see the material world - the world I was born into  - as completely necessary for my spiritual progress.  The material world provided me with all the nutrients I needed to grow as a spiritual being.

I see it now, every time a situation arises where I have resistance or fear.  It's like the universe is gently pointing out the places where I need to grow.

 

 Before realizing how similar the Tantric Buddhist perspective on the lotus flower was similar to my own life, I went through a period where I thought I needed to live in India and devote my life to meditation in order to progress as a spiritual being.  But being born where I was, and after living for six months in India, I couldn't imagine a life only focused on that.  I also realized that path was comfortable for me, it wouldn't invite me to grow in the areas I needed to, and it would not be fully sharing my gifts with the world.

When I pondered the idea of becoming a yoga instructor however, I felt a huge amount of fear and resistance arise.  When I sat with this feeling, I also noticed a little bit of curiosity and even some excitement.  Since then I began to take small steps toward the things that scared me.  

When something new comes up = whether it be a hard conversation I don't want to have, or a setting I want to avoid - I notice my resistance to it.  I see this now as the universe asking me to go there, and when I do, I gain back my spiritual power.

Photographs by me, from the pond on the property I live on in Petaluma, CA

10 ways you know the yoga is working

 
yoga and meditation-clarity-compassion

There are so many lessons yoga has brought to my daily life.

I taught a yoga class recently on this idea: How to Know the Yoga is Working” and was surprised when more and more reasons just came to me on the spot. I decided to make a list for all the yogis out there to remember just how much value our practice has in our lives, both on and off the mat.

1.  You’re less reactive.

Say somebody says a mean word to you and you tighten. In the past it may have turned into low self-esteem, blame or anger, but now you breathe. You notice what is happening in your body. You give yourself a moment.

Before, you may have attacked back, but now you’re able to see the whole situation from the outside. You realize the person may not have even meant that word in a mean way.  You notice the trigger that arises and you let it out with the breath. You choose to act and speak from a calm, centered place.

2.  You let go of your “story.”

You may have been triggered because of a story you carry about yourself. You check in with the people close to you about what your mind is making up. You realize most of it is not even real. It’s made up. With this awareness, you can let it go.

3.  You face your fears.

You begin to see your fears as some kind of karmic inheritance,

“These are the places for me to grow.”

Now you ask yourself,

“What do I stand to gain by not doing this thing?”

You decide to face your fears. Each little fear you face gives you more courage to live as your full self.

4.  You accept yourself as you are.

Your yoga class becomes the place to stop comparing yourself. You stop looking around at all the other people, and start looking within for acceptance.

5.  You take care of your body.

Once you start doing yoga, it’s not too long before you start buying organic produce and drinking green juices. I think healthy eating and yoga go hand-in-hand. When you spend time being so close to yourself, listening to your body, it is more likely you will treat it with care. Your body becomes something you are only given once in this life, so you decide to take care of it.

6.  You stop avoiding discomfort.

It was probably in my first sitting forward bend, Paschimottanasana, that I learned to breathe into my discomfort. I learned that it wasn’t so bad when I used my breath and as soon as I came out of the pose, I felt lighter, more open and flexible. Life is kind of like that. Sometimes it’s uncomfortable in the moment, but we can breathe through it and as soon as we get through the discomfort, we feel lighter and more open. Yoga reminds you to face your discomforts in order to grow.

7.  You embrace vulnerability.

You realize that when you allow yourself to be vulnerable, you create greater connections and more authentic relationships. You let down your guards and allow yourself to be fully seen.

8.  You hold yourself with compassion.

You don’t get down on yourself when you make a mistake. You let go of your ideas of perfection. You allow yourself to feel exactly what you need to feel and allow a great sense of love and compassion for yourself to arise.

9.  You’re grateful, everyday.

Yoga opens you to gratitude. You stop focusing on the negative all the time, and ask,

“What am I grateful for? What is going right in my life?”

When we open ourselves to gratitude, we attract more of that good.

10.  You come back for more.

When you first start yoga, you may just move through your poses waiting for that sweet savasana. But eventually, your body grows stronger, you tune into your breath and you begin to enjoy your practice.  You wait for that time when you have full permission to let go of the past and future and be fully present with yourself.

This article was also published on Elephant Journal !

 

Why I Practice Yoga

 
yoga and meditation-compassion-8 limbs of yoga

This piece of writing came to me the morning after a dream. In the dream, someone very close to me died, and I was left to console those left behind by this person. I was forced to think and talk about the nature of life and death - something we rarely talk about openly in Western culture. I realized the ancient sages and yogis that fully devoted their life to their yoga; their salvation, were fully connected to the brevity of their life and the impermanence of their body. I realized at my most deep level, this is why I practice yoga.

--------------------------- I practice yoga because I know one day, I am going to die. I say yoga, because it is more than an asana practice. In the yoga sutras, Patanjali describes 8 limbs of yoga: yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and samadhi. Practiced together, they are a way of life.

I know my body's impermanence. I practice yoga, I live my yoga, for my soul. I live my yoga so my soul will progress in this life, and have less lives to live.

Compassion and kindness. Kindness and compassion.

We come back to this Earth to cultivate compassion and kindness in our lives. We take on this body again and again to live out our karma, open to our sankharas and tear through samsara.

When I feel lost, yoga is my saviour. It reminds me to lean into life, and draw my aversions closer. It reminds me to close my eyes and find that ever-renewing source of silence. Yoga pulls me out of the limitations and pains of this body world, drawing me ever closer to my heart.

And when my body is in pain, yoga is my friend. Yoga comforts me, accepts me as I am, and allows me to rest. Yoga opens me to a greater capacity to love myself.

When I am afraid, yoga holds all of those fears and lets me decide when the time is right to open that door. Yoga eases me into facing those fears and shows me the light that exists on the other side.

When I am lonely, yoga reminds me of the power and beauty in my alone-ness. I learn to steep in that beauty until I become strong.

When I feel disconnected, yoga reminds me of devotion and prayer. Devotion to something much bigger than myself that I may never fully understand. Prayer to intimately connect with that divine mystery - that powerful force that listens to where I am, where I have been, and where I need to go from here.

When I am faced with discomfort, yoga reminds me: this is an opportunity to grow.

When I feel incomplete and imperfect, yoga reminds me I am whole, and perfection only arises from that wholeness

And in those times of peace and wholeness, yoga opens me to bliss. Yoga realigns my body and lifts my spirit back to what is my natural state.

And through all of this, yoga reminds me to reconnect to my breath. A reminder to come back to my own aliveness and to find gratitude there. Gratitude for all of the lessons and the pain, because those lessons and pain made me into who I am today.

My yoga is more than a practice. My yoga permeates my breath, it is with me in my dreams, and it reminds me to open to the world each morning I wake.