This section is about the internal aspects of yoga: awareness, compassion, humility and knowledge, and the ways they can be cultivated externally. Every moment is an opportunity to exercise these skills but the time you deliberately set aside to practice them is an opportunity for accelerated growth.
Thursday, May 29, 2014
by Cindy Walker
Remember when a quick visit to the gym or swipe of Nars Blush in orgasm was all it took to make us feel cute? When we recovered from a late night, no problemo? Oh, that feeling of eternal life — and effortless beauty — was the nectar of the gods back in our 20s and 30s. Then something happened…We hit our 40s. Somehow we didn’t heal as well, or bounce back as quickly. We started to realize that effortless beauty wasn’t quite so well, effortless anymore.
Everybody talks about aging, but once we reach our 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, reality starts to set in. We watch our parents hit their 80s and 90s, and are confronted with the painful realization of mortality. Anyone who practices knows that yoga helps us lead saner, more balanced lives. Quite simply yoga makes us better people, and more accepting of life's ups and downs. But did you also know that yoga can keep us healthier for longer and in a sense, suspend the aging process?
Recent scientific research shows that practicing yoga and mediation on a regular basis can help our bodies age more graceful and yes — slowly. Not to go all Dr. Sanja Gupta on you, but inside the nucleus of a cell, our genes are arranged along twisted, double-stranded molecules of DNA called Chromosomes. At the ends of the Chromosomes are stretches of DNA called Telomeres… Stay with me… almost to the good part!
Telomeres have been compared with the plastic tips on shoelaces, because they keep Chromosome ends from fraying and sticking to each other. Smoking makes your Telomeres shorter, as does emotional stress and lack of exercise. Conversely, a regular yoga and meditation practice — and the accompanying healthy lifestyle including nutrition, etc., can actually prevent our telomeres from shrinking and help us live longer.
Okay, so yoga can help us live longer (Yay!) but can it also help us deal with the psychological effects of aging? Can it help us look in the mirror and realize that aging can be beautiful? The answer is YES!
I want to share an epiphany I had lately. Full Disclaimer: It’s taken me a while to get to this point, but recently I looked in the mirror at my chin. I analyzed it and studied it. Well yes, it is sagging a bit, and in fact, I would stay underneath my chin is a double chin. Shoot – where did that come from? I do not remember ordering this from Pottery Barn? How do I send this Waddle Back? And then, I thought: do I really want to blow five grand to get rid of this not-as-tight-and-supple 50 something-year-old chin? Or, do I want to age gracefully, and not try to look 35 or even 45 anymore? Tough decision!
I answered the later. The moment of surrender was actually freeing. Aging is a part of living and certainly letting go of our control over “how we look” — our perceived beauty.
It’s time for all us yogini’s to look in the mirror and finally start to love what we see—even if it is a little baggy, saggy, wrinkly. So go ahead and embrace 40, 50, 60, 70, 80, 90! Celebrate your good points, don’t obsess on the imperfections! Sport that red bikini like Helen Mirren. Whatever you do, commit to the mat! Your cheeks will get a nice flush, and you’ll look healthy and alive. You can’t buy that from any plastic surgeon.
With Love and Aging Naturally,
Cindy Walker, R.Y.T. has been teaching Yoga for over 20 years. She has a B.A. in Movement Therapy and Psychology, and holds certifications from the White Lotus Foundation, Erich Schiffman, Bryan Kest, Paul Grilley and Judith Lasater. She teaches Vinyasa, Kundalini, Restorative, Gentle, Pre-natal, Post-partum & Yin Yoga. Her teaching style is eclectic, and draws into each class the wisdom of the eight limbs of Yoga theory. She teaches a holistic approach that uses breath, movement, magic, humor, psychology and deep relaxation.
Tuesday, April 29, 2014
by Stacey Roseblade
Do you find that your running yourself ragged? Are you always on the move trying to be everything to everyone? Whether we like it or not – society has programed us to be as productive as possible no matter what’s going on in the external world. When I get caught in the busyness of everyday life, instead of paying attention to my body and slowing down, I continue to live at an unsustainable pace until I burn myself out. Perhaps it’s a byproduct of living in the Silicon Valley, but I have mastered the art of ‘burning the candle at both ends’.
My approach to daily life has certainly carried over in to my yoga practice. I like to pick the hottest and hardest classes (sometimes taking back-to-back classes if I’m able to squeeze them in), usually a Power or Hot Pilates class. I race to the studio, throw down my mat two minutes before class starts, do one last check of my emails/text messages before I get my yoga face on. During the class I move from pose to pose on autopilot while thinking about what I have to do later in the day, the next day or even later that week. And I always, ALWAYS cheat myself out of shavasana – instead of quieting the mind and enjoying the rare moment of stillness, I reprimand myself for not accomplishing everything I meant to get done that day and think of ways to squeeze it in the following day.
After many years of living like this, my lifestyle and yoga practice took a toll on my body; I had a hard time sleeping, I felt anxious the majority of the time and I kept reinjuring my lower back. Despite these issues I kept pushing myself, living life with intensity and I accepted the fact that I was going to always live with lower back pain – it was almost as if this was the new normal. It wasn’t until my doctor ordered me to find a less strenuous exercise, specifically a restorative or therapeutic yoga class, to allow my lower back to heal. I balked at him. I have always had a strong, more rigorous yoga practice and would never be caught dead in a Yin or Restorative class, ‘those’ classes made me anxious, just sitting there in stillness didn’t appeal to me and I couldn’t understand for the life of me why anyone in their right mind would want to do that.
I reluctantly started my journey in to the softer side of yoga by attending gentle, restorative and yin classes. The first couple of weeks taking these classes were a real struggle for me; I noticed that sitting in poses for 3-25 minutes gave me A LOT of time to think and made me very anxious. I had a hard time resisting the urge to move and really struggled with trying to quiet my mind. After a few months of practicing the art of stillness, I noticed some incredible changes. My anxiety dissipated and I became liberated. I discovered that I had been shielding myself with goals, distractions and experiences; I was using my active practice as an escape from myself. Practicing the softer side of yoga enabled me to build a strong relationship with myself and gave me the self-care that I needed to allow my body and mind to heal. Additionally, it allowed me to find a new type of edge, an edge where I was able to marinate in a pose and really be a witness to the sensations I was feeling in my body.
After taking 8 months of Yin and Restorative classes I noticed a dramatic shift in my yoga practice. The result of balancing both passive and active classes has had a calming affect on my mind and has made my body healthier and stronger. My physical ailments have dissipated, my anxiety has subsided and I’ve become more flexible. As an instructor, I can’t stress enough the importance of balancing out your practice and allowing your body to recover and rest when it needs it. I encourage you to get over the mentality of needing to maximize your time in a world where there are never enough hours in the day. Instead of selecting your yoga class based on the number of calories per hour you’ll burn, select your class on how your body is feeling and pay attention to what it needs. If you’re feeling run down or dealing with an annoying injury that doesn’t seem to be getting better, see what the softer side of yoga can do for your practice - you’re body and mind will thank you for it.
Stacey began her yoga journey in 2002 and instantly fell in love with the challenge of balancing the unification of movement and breath with the art of stilling the mind. Within 6 months of discovering yoga, Stacey began teaching Bikram, which she taught for 5 years. As her practice evolved, her desire to expand her knowledge of yoga deepened, and she decided to shift her focus to Power Yoga. Stacey became Yoga Alliance certified in 2005 through the 200 hour Yoga Source Power Flow Program and the Level One Baron Baptiste Power Yoga Program. In addition to her certifications, Stacey has been greatly influenced and inspired by teachers such as Linda McGrath, Jill Miller, Stephanie Snyder, Janet Stone, Gabriella Walters and Rusty Wells.
Monday, March 24, 2014
By Matece Skow
Yoga, if we are lucky, brings us to the deepest and most vulnerable parts of ourselves. As we move and breathe through the practice with mindfulness, with watchful compassion for our experience, we can begin to see more clearly where we are stuck, where we have resistance and hardness. Conversely, yoga also illuminates and strengthens our inner knowing, our light and joy. One thing is certain; if you have practiced yoga for any amount of time (or lived a human life on this planet for any amount of time) you may have noticed how it is always changing. The interplay of dark and light, sorrow and joy, struggle and ease is ongoing.
How do we navigate this emotional richness which our yoga practices evoke? Specifically, how do we take care of ourselves when we are in the middle of a public yoga class and that epic swell of emotion begins to rise up and swallow us? Maybe you have been there. You are in the sweetness of you practice, when all of a sudden and for no apparent reason, you find huge crocodile tears running down your face. Or perhaps, more often, you feel the urge to cry, but to open to that vulnerability in a room full of people seems too scary, too raw. So you swallow hard, tell yourself you will investigate this feeling later and continue moving through the practice. Sound familiar?
In my experience, when I swallow that swell of emotion to tend it at another time, when I attempt to go back to that feeling, it is nearly impossible to recreate. These moments of emotional release, when they come up in our practice, are rare and incredible gifts to heal and transform our lives. What if we felt empowered enough, courageous enough, compassionate enough to open to this gift of release, this possibility of liberation from our suffering? What if instead of swallowing it back down, we paused to gather our courage, took a deep breath and let the swell of emotion move through us?
I understand the tremendous courage it takes to feel. Just this morning on my own mat I was awash with grief; tears rolling, acute sorrow and longing foremost in my heart once again. By now this is familiar territory and is one of the most important reasons why I practice yoga. I return to my mat again and again for these precious moments when my practice is able to break through to what I avoid, what I am afraid of, what I resist feeling. I cannot make it happen. It comes as a grace. I have spent years hiding and have now learned that to say yes, to move into my experience fully without reservation, is what sets me free. I encourage you to do the same.
So how do we create a safe space for ourselves to feel and to cry if we need to in a group yoga class?
1. Wave Rolls In
Pause and breathe. Sometimes when emotions come up we can continue
moving with the practice. If you are able to maintain a steady and calm breath, then consider staying with the group. The emotional wave may pass quickly.
2. Wave Crests
If the emotion is strong enough to modify your breath you may consider taking a
comfortable resting pose. Child’s Pose is a very safe pose to explore what you are
feeling and to let the tears roll. Especially if you are feeling vulnerable, child’s pose is a wonderful way to stay in your own experience without feeling exposed to others in the class. It is also a very accepted resting pose and so won’t draw unwanted attention. Stay as long as you need to.
3. Rip Current
I recommend staying in the community energy of the class if possible. Though
often times we don’t know the name of the yogi practicing next to us, we are all a part of the same tribe and our shared breath and intention is powerful healing elixir. Even if that means you get up and move your mat to the back of the room and take Legs Up the Wall for the last 20 minutes of class, try to stay. Let your community hold you up.
That said, sometimes it feels safer to leave class. If you decide to leave, try to make eye contact or share a few brief words with the teacher so they know why you are leaving.
It is my hope that our yoga practice brings us all closer to our own selves. The next time your heart breaks open, try turning toward your heart rather than away. Take the time and space to explore what it is about. Let it flow in and then out. Harbor and release.
Matece teaches Gentle, Yin, Restorative and Vinyasa yoga. She leads teacher trainings, workshops and retreats in various beautiful places. She practices bodywork, is a dedicated wife and mother and can often be found joyously digging in her garden. In Matece's classes and massage sessions, her aim is to create a nurturing space in which it is safe to explore honestly, openly and courageously within to discover the truth; that wisdom, clarity and beauty are already there, just waiting to be claimed. Check her out at: matece.com
Tuesday, February 25, 2014
by Linda McGrath
Yesterday, I posted the following on Facebook, and received a storm of responses:
You all made some very good points, some funny ones, and some very deep ones too. My question was more practical - as teachers, how do we spot an evolved practice? Teaching being a creative endeavor, it’s helpful to define the implicit or explicit goals we have for our students and to outline the markers that will validate our approach so that at some point we can hope to gain job satisfaction that is independent of the customary hype: “omg, that was the best class ever!” Many of you may say "just show up, teach and trust the universe" but I am much more hands-on than that. So what signs can we look for in our studentship to tell us we’re doing our job, especially in a group class of 50, 70, 100 people where our own focus is dispersed?
A steady dishti is absolutely at the top of the list but it requires more longitudinal observation. Maybe it’s my personality or the overall lack of pure beginners in my classes, but my students control their gaze well when they sense me looking at them. I’ve learned then not to hang my hat on a single data point.
"Kinesthetic hotness" as I like to call skillful embodiment makes me very happy when I see it. As a self-confessed technical teacher, I won’t lie that the body is my tool. But it’s still not the sine qua non of a yoga practice. We all know the dancer or gymnast who imports a history of great form but looks dry and rigid.
The willingness to modify can be a sign of self-knowledge and humility or it can be plain rebelliousness and lack of discipline. It takes some long-term observation to put it into a context so I refrain from ascribing meaning until I know them well.
A soft face, a sense of surrender and ease are undeniably integral. A smile is great if it’s true and I am grateful to get many, but it’s not otherwise required. If I ever ask you to “smile!" in a yoga class, you can shoot me.
What I look for is simply a continuously moving ribcage and a body that moves in sync with that, whether that’s through a transition or through the micro-movements of a held pose. Inner movement matching the outer movement. The reason I hold that sacred is that it takes presence and courage to nurture a continuous breath through the fluctuations of a class. It is a surrender to process, an ode to inquiry, to be able to bring the breath full sail into the seeming stillness of a challenging pose and to use that pulse to thaw the pose out, to develop it, to come into relationship with it. Coordinating the breath to the movement takes up most of the processing bandwidth of the executive brain so the odds are good that the mind is stilling. More than anything though, the breath makes you an active participant in the present moment. No matter the circumstances, you are not just enduring but actively creating this reality.
Disclaimer: of course, there are no guarantees. I often wonder, can we learn to fake this? Can you become so pre-occupied with the breath that you ignore the sensation of injury? With experience, can you learn to automate this process, like driving stick? Can you build smugness and attachments through a perfectly performed ujjaii? Unfortunately, I think so. You can breathe gloriously and still be an asshole. Ultimately, as Desikachar told us: “If you want to see if your yoga is working, look at the quality of your relationships”. As teachers, we cannot (and should not) follow our students outside the studio to observe their relationships to their loved ones. What we can witness is their relationship to the breath. More often that we think, the breath is enough.
Thank you all for a great discussion! ….X
Monday, January 27, 2014
By Donna Pettit
It’s February, which seems astonishing considering the neighbor has only just taken the holiday lights down from the eves, and you’re slightly bewildered at the speed with which January has flown by. Firmly in 2014 now. Yes indeed. No question about that. With a sigh you might reflect on those well-intended resolutions you may or may not have vocalized as 2013 made its way from the present to the past. Oddly, even those who are firmly Non-Resolution People somehow manage to allow something to come eerily close to sounding like a resolution without actually being a resolution. And as January turns to February, the steadfast sticktoitedness is starting to wane and you might be finding the occasional excuse to ignore that non-resolution resolution, and perhaps to skip the day’s yoga practice. And you do, and then it bugs you. Maybe you badmouth yourself, engage in a little non-verbal (or verbal) self-flagellation gazing down that meandering yet well-trodden I’ve-already-blown-it-so-why-bother path. Maybe you even start down that path as you cruise right past the yoga studio while pouring another sugar packet into your caffeinated latte and think, ‘Well at least I’m not speeding with the phone to my ear.’
Enter the first limb of the 8-Fold Path: the Yamas, universal morality, the five jewels. A Sanskrit word, Yamas literally translates to “restraints” and includes Ahimsa (non-violence), Satya (truthfulness), Asteya (non-stealing), Bramamacharya (non-excess), and Aparigraha (non-possessiveness). May feel lot a lot to process, especially the Sanskrit, but take a deep breath, let it all out slowly, and relax for a moment. There’s no need to overcomplicate the application of these jewels to any part of your life including the non-resolution resolution.
Ahimsa, nonviolence, is the very core, the foundation to the other guidelines and is more than the lack of violence as adapted in yoga. It’s also kindness and compassion, a balance of relationship that is neither self-sacrifice nor self-aggrandizement. So you missed a day or four of your yoga practice, the concept of “do no harm” applies first to oneself and that self-flagellation is a violent, harmful way of self-interaction. Reclaiming that peace within needn’t be grandiose or flamboyant, rather it begins with a simple act of kindness. Instead of beating yourself up with your mat, just come to the studio, unroll it, and step on.
Satya, truthfulness, the second jewel, is partnered with nonviolence. Truthfulness is rarely the easy choice. It helps prevent nonviolence from being used as an avoidance technique, and nonviolence prevents truthfulness from being a used as a weapon. Each of our inner truths is unique and deeply personal…and is deserving of expression. That path is the one less traveled and might require a change of clothes and a machete. Consider what might not serve you any longer and what energies might arise by letting go.
Asteya, nonstealing, the third jewel, helps guide our tendencies to look outward, rather than inward, for satisfaction. Stealing from others is only part of the equation; we must also try to avoid stealing from ourselves. Our energy, our potential, our happiness, our opportunities to grow and become who we truly are. Easy application? Stop showing up late to your practice or leaving early from it. Less obvious? Cease comparing yourself to others. Even less obvious? Realize stealing from yourself is stealing from others and vice versa.
Bramamacharya, non-excess, the fourth jewel. It is primed by Asteya. Usually interpreted as celibacy or abstinence, it literally translates as “walking with God” and applies to the sacredness in all actions, in all of us. An interpretation to fit our modern lives might be non-addiction, as in a desire for anything that is strong enough to distract you. How can you channel your energy to connect to your spiritual self? What makes you come alive?
Aparigraha, non-pessessiveness, the fifth jewel and last of the Yamas. This is a practice of letting go. Literally and figuratively. It’s not only clinging to objects, possessions, people, and relationships, it also encompasses thought processes, ideas, concepts, and preconceived notions. That which weighs us down leaving us disappointed and heavy and reduces or eliminates breathing space and joy. Shut the lid on the laptop, power down the mobile phone, leave yourself open to a different class if you’ve managed to miss your favorite one, choose a different spot in the room. Clean out your psychic closet and make room for the “things” you really love.
Choose first what brings you back to the mat, what allows you to breathe and move, then guide the rest into place. So you fell off the wagon. Shake it off. The sun still rises and sets, you still need to file your taxes, and your fellow yogis will be happy to see you again. Finish your latte and we’ll see you on the mat.
Thursday, January 16, 2014
Life sucks? Plant new seeds!
By Allan Ting
Before coming to yoga class today, I was in a state of despair and sadness. My career is not where it’s headed, and my relationship of one year ended before Thanksgiving. I had multiple questions on my mind, but I wasn’t sure what that main issue was. I just couldn’t narrow it down to what really bothered me.
Upon settling down in class, by unrolling my red thick yoga mat, something jumped out in front of me. It was a small look-alike apple seed sitting on my mat, just blatantly staring at me. Curiously, I picked it up to have a closer look and wondered how it could have journeyed on to my mat. Then, another thought came to mind and I asked myself, “What does this mean?” I mean I usually find brown lint from wool blankets, or flocks of some blond girl’s hair on my yoga mat. You don’t typically find a seed on a yoga mat every day, at least not on mine anyway.
As I pondered for a deeper meaning in all of this, I came to a certain conclusion. I remember that not long ago, one of my favorite yoga teachers said “If you are not happy with your life and are not getting the things you want out of life, pay close attention to the things you have been planting. Be aware of the problem “seeds” and understand why you have been planting those seeds. Once you are aware, you have the option to plant better seeds in life.”
I came to the realization that the act of planting an individual seed carefully requires placing the palms face down, or metaphorically, employing the gesture that represents giving. Planting great seeds is not a process that entails having your palms face the sky, in anticipation of receiving. “If you want love, GIVE LOVE! If you want happiness, then help others without any expectation of return,” is what my heart told me in that moment.
The seed reminded me to have the courage to give even during times of despair and sadness. I now have the seed in a make shift petri dish and wonder what will come of it as I patiently wait and observe.
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Thursday, August 29, 2013
by Cindy Walker, B.A. RTY
For thousands of years, the practice of Yoga has helped people cope with physical, emotional and even spiritual pain. Chronic pain depletes both our physical and emotional reserves. It can also lessen the desire to fully participate in life and lead to isolation and loneliness. Yoga combines the triad of breath work (pranayama), relaxation poses (asanas) and meditation (dhyana), all of which help reduce pain syndromes. These techniques act together to 1) distract the mind from focusing on the pain; 2) reduce the body’s physiological reaction to pain; and 3) help loosen pain’s power over us.
Yoga helps regulate the brain’s secretion of natural biochemical pain-killers. Breathing exercises and poses increase blood flow and stimulate release of endorphins, promoting feelings of well-being. Yoga also activates the parasympathetic nervous system—that part of the involuntary nervous system that slows heart rate, increases intestinal and glandular activity, and helps the body recuperate, restore and reach equilibrium. Yoga also helps us increase the length of the breath’s exhalation phase, producing a relaxation response that reduces pain signaling to the brain. When our muscles relax, our mind and emotions unwind, allowing us to develop greater compassion and understanding of ourselves and others.
Many times, the most stressful aspect of chronic pain is the lack of control we experience around it. Yoga helps us feel more ‘in charge’, allowing us to slow down and loosen up around the pain. Less pain—less tension—less pain! Often, we overly-identify with our pain, believing we’re helpless and at its mercy or, even worse, responsible for it. Yoga helps soften these perceptions, allowing us to lovingly inhabit our bodies. Most importantly, yoga is designed to precede meditation. The cultivation of awareness through mindfulness meditation helps us become more fulfilled and able to see things as they really are in the present moment.
Yoga is a multi-faceted practice that trains us to reduce the mind’s constant chatter, lovingly breathe in to our beautiful bodies, concentrate on living in the present, and focus on what’s most important in our precious lives!
I look forward to seeing you on the mat soon,
Friday, July 12, 2013
Limited Edition Om Candy rSkidless Giveaway!
We have challenged you this month to get out and experience a new class. Our YogaSource Summer Camp is off to a great start with so many of you trying new styles of yoga. We have heard quite a few of you long time practitioners mention new experiences and realizations even after so many weeks, months, and even years on the mat.
So we started getting curious. We are curious what you're learning about yourself through yoga. Have you realized something about yourself that you never would have guessed, didn't know existed and found to be pleasurably surprising or scary as all get out? We are hoping you will share these findings with us!
Please tag Yogasource in Facebook or #yogasource in Instagram and tell or show us what you've found.
One lucky participant will receive a limited edition Om Candy rSkidless Yogitoes mat towel for sharing their journey!
Thursday, June 13, 2013
The five spiritual faculties are faith, effort, mindfulness, concentration, and wisdom. Today we have reached the last: Wisdom. It is in some ways the crowning virtue, the highest faculty, but is also something that has been there all along. You may be surprised to learn what wisdom is, and what it is not.
Wisdom is not seen as something abstract or something attained once and then you have it. Rather, we talk about what it takes to be a wise person: It means you know what is good for self, good for others, good for both. It means you know how to act in a beneficial way in the world.
This means that wisdom is a practice.
The Pali word for wisdom is pañña, which is also sometimes translated as "discernment" or "understanding." There are two different levels of discernment.
First, there is wisdom in life. At the relative level, we are discerning what is wholesome from what is unwholesome – what will lead to happiness and what will lead to suffering. This is all very simple and impersonal, but not easy because of our strong habit patterns and tendency to ignore things.
For example, eating foods that bring pleasure in the moment, but make you feel sick later – it's a mark of wisdom to be able to refrain. Or we may learn that it's not worth saying certain things even if it's momentarily cathartic to do so, because of the harm it causes down the line.
Someone who is highly skilled in this kind of worldly wisdom will be generous, virtuous, learned, and usually quite happy. They are exemplary people, worthy friends… but they have not yet put an end to suffering.
The second kind of wisdom concerns a deeper seeing into things – and deceptive nature of conventional reality.
From early childhood, we are trained to perceive objects as solid and separate. Meditative experience shows this not to be true. A crucial part of meditative training is to see all experience in three ways: As impermanent (anicca), unsatisfactory (dukkha), and not-self (anatta). Most people have a basic understanding of impermanence. In fact, this can even be part of daily life wisdom, and does not require deep meditation. But seeing it at a more fundamental level, in meditation, has a profound impact on the mind. Similarly, we can come to realize that anything that is impermanent cannot provide a lasting form of happiness. And such things are not suitable to take as an essential, separate self.
Meditation undermines our conventional perceptions, and this is the path to finding the escape from suffering. This is the sense in which wisdom is the antidote to delusion, ignorance, and wrong view. It is a penetrating kind of wisdom that sees through the clouds of deception.
When a person has developed wisdom this deeply, they are actually returned to the first task: Living well in the world. In fact, it is said that until one has penetrated to the Truth, one cannot completely know what is good for self, good for other, and good for both. With this higher wisdom, people can truly be of benefit to the world.
"We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time."
-T.S. Eliot, from Little Gidding (The Four Quartets):
Join Kim on Sundays at 9am for our complimentary Meditation & Dharma class
Monday, April 29, 2013
Written by Kim Allen, Board President of the Insight Meditation Center in Redwood City and Meditation and Dharma Instructor at YogaSource Los Gatos.
The five spiritual faculties are faith, effort, mindfulness, concentration, and wisdom. Today we will focus on concentration. This is a steadiness of mind – the mind is concerned with just one object and does not waver from that. And it is characterized by having no discursive thought – no storyline, no conversations, no figuring things out. Note that there are various other kinds of thoughts. We are not trying to eliminate thought, which is common misperception about meditation.
Concentration, like other qualities of mind, can be developed. The most traditional concentration object is the breath. Another common one is metta (lovingkindness). The instructions for concentration are to direct the mind repeatedly to one object, and when it moves away from the object, simply let go and bring it back (without investigation of the distraction).
There is a fine art to concentration: Making effort and not making effort (ie, letting go). Notice the connection to the previous faculty of Effort! You have to make some effort or the mind will just run rampant. But making too much effort simply won't work. If your mind is running wild, you just have to accept that until it gets tired and gives up on its own. Make steady effort without straining. And then, as the mind settles into concentration, you can make less effort, and less, and less. In very deep states of concentration, no effort is needed at all – in fact, effort just disturbs the calm.
There are many effects of concentration on the body and mind. The body may feel light, open, relaxed, boundary-less. There may be tingles, flushes of heat, feelings of floating or alteration of body size/shape. There may be a sensation of light. In our tradition, the particular physical sensations are not considered very significant. Just let them arise, don’t get entangled, and know that they will pass away.
In the mind, you will encounter delight, joy, happiness, contentment, equanimity. These are very pleasant mindstates – far better than sense pleasure. In fact, concentration practice tends to weaken our interest in sensory experience; it is a good way to let go of desire and greed for worldly things.
Concentration is not in and of itself liberating. Instead, it leads to the ability to see things as they are. The insights that arise from concentration give birth to wisdom, which is the final faculty.
With love from all of us at YogaSource
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