Mantra Yoga

I know it’s been awhile since I’ve posted. My apologies. Like every writer, I sometimes question the value of writing. I’d love to hear from you and hear your feedback about what subjects you’d like to see me tackle.

Anyway, Mantra!

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As I may have mentioned before, Sanskrit is the language of Yoga and Mantra. First and foremost, Sanskrit was designed as a vibrational language with an emphasis on how the sound quality of the syllables affect and influence human physiology and psychology. According the the Rishis (intuitive seers who received Sanskrit) the vibration of the syllables have frequencies that help us begin to resonate and align ourselves with Universal goodness and purpose.

Nikola Tesla, the man who single-handedly invented the modern age of electricity , said, “If you want to find the secrets of the universe, think in terms of energy, frequency and vibration.” This is right in line with what the Vedas (ancient Sanskrit texts) and the Rishis have been saying for thousands of years.

I can personally testify that in the last six months, since I’ve been practicing a Lakshmi Mantra, my life has been changing in the most abundant ways. Not only have I received more material abundance, but my whole attitude about prosperity has changed significantly. I no longer look at prosperity as a struggle, but as a river into which I can immerse myself as I speak the powerful frequency-charged words of Sanskrit Mantra. What’s more, I can feel a stronger conviction about the person that I want to be.

While I do not relate to the ancient Hindu deities as gods, per se, I practice mantra to align myself with the frequency contained in their Sanskrit names. For me, it is about aligning my self with the goodness of Universal energy. Sanskrit Mantra helps us attune ourselves with that Universal goodness as we use those sounds to build our resonance with it.

Whatever your religious tradition, Sanskrit is available to help you super-charge your own path with the power of Universal Prana (Life Force).

So, if you’ve never used Sanskrit Mantra, I recommend its profound transformative power.

Two good books on the subject are : Mantra Yoga and Primal Sound by David Frawley and Shakti Mantras by the late Thomas Ashley Farrand. Frawley’s book delves into the roots of sound itself and Farrand’s work is full of illustrative stories and mantras to help you achieve your goals.

Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti. Peace,Peace, Peace.

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The 40 Day Practice: Shifts in Consciousness

The first thing I did when I completed my forty day practice earlier this month was to commit myself to another 40 day practice. Why? Because I want to build a habitual devotion to a practice that transforms human consciousness.

This is not hyperbole. It is as sure as the constant wash of water against stone, as certain as the paths of the planets in their orbits, as trustworthy as the promise of each new dawn.

What has happened to me over the last forty days has been subtle but measurable change. Like the water that wears away weaker stone to reveal its core of strength, forty straight days of devotion to meditation practice slowly brings an increment of change that I can sense and build on.

I wont’ kid you. Every morning was not a revelation of ineffable glory, though, to be sure, there were days of sublime, tantalizing bliss. Some mornings were a slog through the swamp of my own crazy mind. Often it would take 20 minutes of such slogging to get just a taste of clear, cool, pinpoint stillness. Sometimes all I got was the swamp.

It is a slow alignment, sort of like braces on your teeth. I can feel my mind, indeed my entire being, being pulled, if only slightly, by the force of Spirit. The experience of grace is perhaps not some fickle, inexplicable favor bestowed at random, but a practical merging of our energy with Universal Life Force.

At the end of forty days I feel a bit more aware, a bit more stable, a bit stronger. All these little bits feed the fire of my yearning for transformation that comes alive in persistent practice. Persistent practice increases the likelihood that the path of the practitioner will intersect with moments of serendipitous joy and ecstasy.

Most of all, I feel encouraged to unleash my longing for the Divine!

We needn’t fear that we will fail to taste, digest and be nourished by the Divine presence that is readily accessible to all. Those who will persist in their efforts to align themselves with the pervasive, elegant willingness of creation’s eternal Energy are guaranteed success. It is our birthright.

So, I ask you to join me in forty days of devotion to the magnetic, righteous desire of your heart. It awaits you. It is a gift with your name on it. No one can deny you the prize of your destiny.

The Early Yield of the 40 Day Practice

One of the many things I notice when I am inconsistent with my meditation is that it takes me about twenty minutes to slog through the distractions and unconscious inattention to get to the clear, calm state of concentration. If this happens to you, simply persevere w/o judgement or frustration. With practice you’ll get there, I promise.

This is exactly why I’ve set myself the challenge of a 40 day practice. I’ve grown weary of of the faulty construction I’ve made of my life by inconsistent practice. Forty days of practice helps us to instill new habits, to compose a new song for our lives. As you may know, 40 is a significant number in spiritual traditions the world over.

Speaking of composing a new song for our lives, have you ever seen a metronome? It’s a simple time keeping device used by musicians to set the tempo for a certain time signature of music. The pendulum of the metronome sounds the beat as it sways back and forth according to the speed set by the practitioner.

The breath is the metronome of the human being. As we begin our meditation, we engage the breath not only physically but mentally, psychologically and emotionally as well. We settle into a tempo of slow, regular diaphragmatic rhythm. We sing the sensual song of the body and allow it to suffuse every cell of our anatomy. We find the natural cadence of being that lies in our souls beneath all the competing storms that disturb our peace.

The metronomic rhythm of the attentive breath sweeps away the seeds of potential disturbance before they sprout. We clean the soil of our minds so that we may sow the seeds of peace and steady attention that root and give rise to the creativity that invariably germinates from this fertile state of mind.

Now the garden of the mind is set to become absorbed in the neurochemistry that creates the deep foundational union of the human spirit with our cosmic origins. Persisting in meditation quite simply changes our brains. The work of Harvard neuroscientist, Sara Lazar, demonstrates how meditation stimulates growth in the hippo campus and parietal lobe where memory and empathy respectively reside. At the same time, the amygdala, the fear center of the brain, is soothed and pacified. When we develop a habit of starting our day with this kind of mindset, we open the doors of possibility to being the kinds of people we really want to be–the kinds of people who can make positive, permanent change in our lives and the lives of others.

Another wonderful benefit is the seeming contradiction between feeling elevated and grounded simultaneously. I love this so much because it gives me the assurance that I will be more likely to think, speak and act with greater awareness. I will be less likely to think unkind thoughts and speak and or act out of unconscious reaction.

I am only a four days into my devotional period of 40 days, and the results are already such a joyful relief.

Here’s a good example of how a clear, considered state of mind can make a big difference: I heard a story today on NPR about an airline pilot whose plane was disabled by a broken engine fan blade that tore a hole in the wing of the jet aircraft he was flying. His actions defied my comprehension. The report told of how he sat back, took his hands off the controls and closed his eyes. WOW! He meditated. The instant guidance he got for consciously controlling his response was to treat that big hulking jet like a small Cessna. Rather than reacting to all the alarms and warnings produced by multiple systems failures, he cut through all the noise and carried out the fundamental, necessary actions that saved over 400 passengers and crew.

We may never fly a jet aircraft in an emergency situation, but each day, we know there are triggers and traps that have the ability to make us lose our composure, depress us, or send us careening off into an emotional detour that may have significant consequences. By starting each day with the habit of meditation we reconstruct our minds so that we are able to set the stage for goodness before negative influences confront us. We are ready and equipped to overcome life’s challenges before they gain enough strength to defeat us. The habit of meditation is the guarantor of our ability to respond to life in victory.

Playing Your Intelligent Edge

What is playing your intelligent edge in asana practice? First, we must define “edge.” The intelligent edge in any given asana is a place of simultaneous challenge and ease. It embodies the yogic concept of sukha, or ease, and sthira, fufilling, steady, conscious engagement.

The edge is also where the things that don’t serve us can be cut away and released. The edge is a place where light severs the unnecessary from the essential.

I’ve seen students assume a yoga pose without energy, engagement or focus. They are assuming the shape of the pose without energy, concentration or application of their whole being. The next step for such a student is to begin applying the complimentary opposites of reaching, pushing, grounding and pulling within the context of the particular pose. Finally, the great potent elixir of the the diaphragmatic breath is injected as the catalyst of consciousness.

Sustaining the pose at the edge, in a sweet fire is where we will make progress, both physical, mental and emotional. This edge is a crucible for human development.

Michael Lee, the yogi who originated Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy (PRYT), had a very deep experience of the edge many years ago that led him to the basis for PRYT. While being assisted in Trikonasana (Triangle Pose) by a friend, Michael felt that he was ready to release the pose. His friend encouraged him to persist for awhile longer. As the pose became more challenging to his endurance edge, Michael deepened his breath and witnessed strange noises coming involuntarily from his mouth. When his persistence met the limit of his endurance his hip felt like a “volcanic eruption.” His body vibrated as tears poured down his cheeks. Michael had broken through fears that had haunted his subconscious since childhood.

I had a similar experience in Ustrasana/Camel Pose years ago when my marriage was unraveling. The deep heart opening of Camel Pose allowed me to release the anguish and fear that had built up over an intense period of turbulence in that relationship.

I’m not saying that all of our edge experiences will deliver us to such complete redemption, but these emotional releases are not uncommon. As we practice working with our minds and bodies on that edge, we will be transformed. This is where our issues will arise and resolve. By bravely persisting at the edge of our endurance, suspended between pleasure and pain, asana facilitates our rebirth, bit by bit.

Depending on our own issues and constitution, the poses that challenge us the most will lead us to our moments of transformation. As we listen and dialogue with our bodies in practice, we accept the challenges that yoga or union with the divine presents to us. Because we trust our practice and the assurance of our own loving kindness, we know beyond doubt that we can trust this process of transformation. It is a psycho-physical therapeutic method of achieving permanent human change.

One thing to notice about asana practice is poses we avoid. Our aversion to those poses is a message that those poses are just what we need to process our deep, perhaps unspoken issues. These intuitive promptings will lead us to experiences of liberation as we address the edge and play with the spirit of faith and expectation.

Though these kinds of experiences sometimes occur spontaneously during our daily practice, the help of a trusted teacher or yoga therapist can help us reach deeper states of liberation in a more concerted way.

Either way, whether these achievements come upon us during the solitary moments of our personal practice, during a class or a private session, know that you are being guided by the infinite loving consciousness that resides in us and binds us all together in pursuit of our full human potential which is our birthright.

Mindfulness as an Antidote to Frenzied Media Culture

Since I have worked in the radio and news media since 1986, I have had an insider’s view of this business and gained a unique perspective of how it works. Media, all media is driven by ratings, which is about attracting attention. Once the attention of those ears and eyes are secured, they are used as leverage to gain advertising dollars for profit and non-profit media outlets alike.

More often than not, the most sensational stories lead any newscast or pop culture program. “If it bleeds, it leads” is the old adage. The word “sensational” is key to this discussion. By sensational I mean that which is the most surprising, emotionally titillating, upsetting and attention grabbing. Many stories are simply bad news, like war, disasters, threats to our safety et cetera. They are amplified repeatedly like a psychological battering ram.

Also, remember this: news outlets often act as organs of particular political points of view. This is a long tradition.

Once upon a time, networks made their money on other types of programming like dramas and sitcoms. Now, all commercial networks demand that the news broadcast also be a profit center. This is one thing that has led to the sensationalist 24 hour news coverage we now see. It’s all about the money, the worship of money and the influence that money can buy in our society.

This is also true about the entertainment media. The number of programs on currently that deal with the deepest kind of human depravity or silliness has skyrocketed along with the number of cable tv channels.

A steady diet of sensationalism can have a strong effect on the human nervous system. It can provoke a range of emotions that keep us in a constant state of turmoil or at least imbalance. It can contribute to depression and despair.

But here’s the worst thing about feeding heavily on media trash culture: we so often feel disempowered to do anything meaningful to change our world. Disempowerment leads to apathy, and apathy to inaction. We can get frozen into a permanent state of inertia. We are then subject to manipulation by a whole host of demagogues whose points of view are eagerly broadcast by—the media.

Thought I wouldn’t claim that there is a conspiracy involved in media programming, it’s wise to remember the words of Alexander Hamilton, the first Secretary of the Treasury of the United States. Hamilton, who strove to secure the support of the wealthy for the fledgling U.S. government, had little but contempt for common folk. He encouraged the wealthy to supply the “the rabble” as he termed us, with “bread and circuses” while our betters handled the serious business of governance. And that is, by and large the pattern we have today: poor quality fast food on nearly every corner and 24 hours of news, sports and celebrity drivel.

This is where mindful practices like yoga, tai chi, qigong and meditation come to our aid. These ancient mindfulness practices offer us a way to take control of our nervous systems so that we can connect with what’s in our soul instead of being whipped into the chaos that is the commercial news media.

For those of us who may yearn to stop the world so we can get off for a while, these mindfulness practices help us reset our nervous systems so we can gain a clear perspective on life untainted by the greedy maw of consumerism promoted by the media industrial complex. When we regain autonomous control over own minds, we get a panoramic vista of our own lives and how we fit into the crazy world we’ve created. We are no longer manipulated by every violent atrocity, celebrity news tidbit or the other magnified trash foisted upon us. Our buttons and triggers are not so readily accessible to the barrage of commercial stimuli constantly directed toward us.

So, if you’re weary of the rat race and the endless, ruinous competition that is being offered, retreat. Retreat to the nourishing practices that our ancestors have nurtured and handed down to us. We may always drink from the fortifying springs of these traditions as an antidote to the toxicity of so-called modern culture.

Body Mind Centering: Creating Prana Flow From Asana

Whether we are yoga practitioners or not, whether we meditate or not, or whether we even have spiritual inclinations or not; we’re all seeking balance on the human journey. We may not even be conscious that we are seeking balance. We are always trying to balance the different aspects of our lives like our diets, our professional ambitions, our love relationships, our family obligations et cetera. Nick Wallenda, the tight rope walker, isn’t the only human being trying to pull off the ultimate balancing act; we’re all engaged in this process every minute of our lives, even as we sleep.

Practicing yoga asana is not simply about fitness or achieving the perfect yoga butt. Creating balance and alignment with the universal life force, or prana, is what yoga asana is all about. Through asana practice we become aware of our internal biological gyroscope that is constantly orienting us to the flow of prana, our connection to unlimited energy. As we practice with awareness we develop extraordinary or even super normal sensitivity to the prana flowing through our bodies and how to refine our connection to the boundless source that powers the entire cosmos.

This may all sound rather esoteric or theoretical, but we can begin to understand this immediately when we practice poses like Warrior I and Warrior II. After we establish the basic architecture of the pose, we energize these asana by grounding through our feet and legs, lengthening through the torso and energizing the arms in various ways. These movements bring us awareness of our muscles, bones, joints, connective tissues, organs and glands. As we push down and out with our feet we feel the simultaneous engagement of our feet, ankles, and the muscles of the legs and pelvis. As we sustain the pose with focused breath we feel how the torso is centered over the pelvis, and how minute degrees of movement change the amount of energy required to continue the pose. Fatigue helps us define the balanced pose by encouraging us to recruit a concert of muscular support that balances the burden of gravity and teaches us how to access a more efficient flow of energy.

This is why B.K.S. Iyengar always insisted on proper architectural alignment in asana. Energy flows through the body most efficiently when the musculoskeletal system is posed in the proper geometric relationship to its connected members in its association with gravity. For example, in the warrior poses the most efficient alignment of the femur (thigh bone) and tibia (largest bone in the foreleg) is 90 degrees. If the knee is ahead of or behind the ankle, more energy will be need to sustain the pose. Try this out yourself and you’ll soon see how balancing the torso over the pelvis and aligning the knee over the ankle allow you to center your body and mind as you breathe with an easier flow of energy.

Architects and builders are quite aware of these principles of stability when they consider building design. Stress within a structure, or how energy flow is managed in a building or a human body, can be managed by efficiency in design or posture.

Our awareness and practice of these principles of alignment allow us to access what author Katherine Howe calls our “secret reservoir of power.” This is the power to have mastery over our minds and bodies, thoughts and emotions. As we practice we learn how to access prana from the air, water and food we ingest. We learn the alchemical magical art of transmuting what nourishes us into a state of balance that resides in the calm, blissful center of our souls.

In asana we are not just lumps of meat hanging unconsciously from our bones. We are attuning our individual frequency to the unlimited universal power source so we can be pipelines for prana flow. In so doing we increase our capacity for compassion and acceptance of ourselves and others. We build determination and perseverance. We become the kind of human beings who can be useful in this world so fraught with trial and difficulty.

This is why asana is so important. We are physical beings. As we attune our physical receiver to the eternal frequency we refine our ability to align ourselves with excellence, goodness and unlimited accomplishment.

Uniting Our Energies with the Bandhas

This post is the fourth of perhaps five brief expositions of the bandhas or yogic locks.
Before I continue I’d like to say a few words about why I’m such an ardent advocate of these great yogic techniques. When I lived in Las Vegas, Nv. a dear friend of mine, Crispin Morrison, died at the age of 41 of ovarian cancer. My friends Emily, Jeanne, Helen and I watched helplessly as Crispin fought to avoid the “slow motion car wreck” of cancer (her words) from taking her life. Coupled with my own struggle with Crohn’s Disease I intuitively felt then, as I do now that Ashwini Mudra and the three bandhas have tremendous potential to cleanse and heal us from the inside out.
My practice and research of the bandhas began from my concern about the physical body as did my initial interest in yoga asana. As I soon learned the specific purpose of these techniques is to purify the astral body, unify our energies and direct them through the chakras toward the experience of samadhi or enlightenment. We can scarcely imagine what kind of world we might create if even a small percentage of humanity could attain this state. Our chances at peace, creativity and wise living would be greatly increased to say the least.
As an imperfect novice (I’m still a beginner) my practice of the bandhas began with the desire to heal myself from Crohn’s Disease. From the first time I exhaled and pulled Uddiyana Bandha (UB) I felt the power of this simple muscular contraction. I could feel the compression of my abdominal organs and immediately began to wonder at just what marvelous intestinal alchemy I’d initiated by this first intentional application of UB.
The word that comes to mind when I think of combining Jalandhara, Uddiyana and Mula Bandhas is vacuum. The combined muscular and mechanical contractions of Maha Bandha do indeed produce a strong vacuum action as the breath is suspended upon exhalation. The root lock is pulling up and down simultaneously as the anchoring sphincter muscles resist the upward pull of the lower abdominals. The upward pull continues with Uddiyana Bandha. Jalandhara Bandha causes a deep hollow at the base of the throat and is compressively dams up the energy as the chin is pressed firmly against the top of the sternum. The stretch and massage produced by applying maha bandha reaches into the deep cells of these tissues. This cleanses and purifies all the organs, glands, muscles, and nerves of the abdominal cavity. Not only are the abdominal organs fully massaged, the heart and lungs also receive a noticeable contractive vacuum. The application and release of Maha Bandha produce a physical, therapeutic wave of complimentary oppositional forces.
Additionally, as our awareness of our bodies’ increases with practice of the bandhas, we will be able to release unconscious stress that can take up residence in our organs. (Stress and tension hold toxins.) Indeed, this was one of the first things I noticed when I began my practice of the root lock. I was one of those proverbial “tight assed” guys who walked around with his sphincter in knot. This constant tension was a result of the worry, stress and anger I unconsciously carried around with me. I can remember feeling that tightness and releasing it consciously even before I knew about yoga, but I didn’t make the connection between that tension and my diseased mind and body.
I’m convinced that these techniques, when combined with asana, pranayama and a clean diet could decrease the incidence of many of our most deadly abdominal diseases like cancers of the colon, pancreas, liver, thyroid and stomach. The pulling, stretching, contraction and compression combined in Maha Bandha must surely deliver super oxygenating blood flow when contrasted to the comparatively stagnant state of our vital organs that we take to be normal.
Likewise, the subtle or astral body is being cleansed so our pranic energies can unite to flow through the chakra system. The union or yoga of these energies eventually creates a person who is balanced and able to access the entirety of human potential. These practices are the collective doorway to super humanity. They can help lift us out of the narrow, egocentric wallows that plague our species.
Study after study in recent decades has confirmed some of the many benefits of yoga. Alas, the bandhas have received little clinical examination. I hope this lack of research will be remedied in the near future.
I am sending out a call to yogis, medical practitioners and researchers alike to begin a thorough examination of these splendid techniques that have been handed down to us from antiquity. I would love to participate in such promising research.
Also, I would love to hear from yogis around the world about their personal experiences with the bandhas. Like me, I’m sure many of you can testify to the powerful effects of these ancient methods. I certainly owe much to the bandhas in helping me recover from and banish Crohn’s Disease from my life. Let me hear from you so that we may add our energy to what the yogis started so many thousands of years ago.