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.

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.

Uddiyana Bandha, the Internal Massage

In my last post I gave a brief overview of the root lock. This time we move up the chakra line for Uddiyana Bandha (UB). Uddiyana means to “fly up.” Uddiyana Bandha involves the entire abdomen from the top of the pubic bone to the solar plexus at the base of the sternum or breast bone. This is the territory of the second and third chakras. The effects of UB permeate all the abdominal organs and reach up into the heart, throat and head. It is a very powerful technique and must be accorded great respect. The basic technique is quite simple. One may either stand or sit to practice UB. Either way is effective. Let’s take standing first. Stand with hands above the knees leaning forward. Take some gentle, full, three part breaths and then exhale completely using your abdominal muscles and diaphragm to empty the lungs. Brace your hands above your knees for leverage. Hold the breath out. Pull the abdomen back and up as if you were drawing your navel toward your spine. The abdomen will have a deep concave shape. If you have a bit of belly fat you may not get the dramatic concave look, but you are still receiving the internal benefits. (Children often play with UB quite instinctively as they explore their bodies.) Hold the bandha as long as it is comfortable. Release and inhale slowly. This may leave you a bit short of breath for a few seconds but it’s nothing to worry about.

As you can feel this is a powerful contraction that provides a deep stretch and massage for the internal organs. As with root lock UB pulls the affected musculature up and down simultaneously. This internal massage increases circulation, cleanses and tones.  UB has a strong, direct effect on the intestines and encourages efficient digestion. It is also my firm personal belief that UB also helps prevent disease for the reasons I’ve listed above. Disease begins and takes hold in a stagnant atmosphere where circulation, and thus oxygenation are limited.

As your UB practice develops you will learn to pull and release the abdominal action several times without inhaling. This should be done slowly and gently. I practice three rounds of 15-20 abdominal pulls. Beginners may only manage just a few abdominal pulls per exhaled breath at the start. Be patient and build your capacity gradually. Because of UB’s potency I emphasize slow, deliberate action. A fast pumping can cause pranic derangement that could lead to injury or imbalance, so take care.

In addition to the physical benefits of cleansing, massage, and healing, UB also has strong psychological effects. I’m sure you’ve heard the terms “guts” or “intestinal fortitude” that indicate courage, bravery or total commitment. These common sayings show what people have long understood: that the second and third chakra sites govern attributes like resolution and determination. Consistent practice of UB helps clear away obstacles to making the commitments important to flourishing to our full potential. As we include UB into our Hatha Yoga practice we willfully engage the visceral, instinctive human motivation for action at the deepest, cellular gut level. We become the gutsy, fearless beings we’ve always hoped we could be.

Although I learned this technique from the Sivananda Yoga Companion book, I advise the supervision of a teacher well-versed in the bandhas to learn UB. Practice mindfully.

As with root lock, if you have any active disease conditions of the abdomen, high blood pressure or hernia do not practice UB until these conditions are resolved. If you have any doubts about the suitability of this technique for yourself consult your doctor.

Generally, UB can be practiced to great effect by most relatively healthy people.

Next time we will consider Jalandhara Bandha or the throat lock.

 

 

 

 

Cleansing and Healing with the Root Lock

In the past I’ve written about complimentary opposites like grounding and reaching, pushing and pulling, expanding and contracting, but never in relationship to the bandhas or the yogic locks.

As with all yoga poses and techniques the bandhas are all about managing and directing our prana or life force. As you may have already encountered, definitions and practice of yogic techniques often vary amongst different traditions. Each tradition has valuable insight into the effects and practice of the bandhas. Let’s begin with root lock or mulabandha.

Mula means root, source, cause or firmly fixed.[1] Some traditions teach that mulabandha is a subtle contraction of the muscles of the pelvic floor as opposed to the entire region including the anal sphincter muscles. Others, like the Kundalini tradition teach that root lock includes the whole region from the pelvic floor to the naval. Because we’re concerned more with physical cleansing in this post, I will emphasize the Kundalini technique.

This region of the body contains the anal muscles, rectum, reproductive organs, and also influences the lower digestive tract. For women this includes the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and uterus. For men, the vas deferens, prostate and vessels connected to the penis. Whether we are in our prime reproductive years, middle or old age it is imperative that we keep full blood circulation in these organs to prevent disease and ensure optimum operation.

Too many people globally suffer from prostate, uterine, ovarian or other related cancers among other diseases that afflict these organs. It is my strong belief that the bandhas can help prevent these diseases. I would love to see medical researchers put these techniques to the test. I think the results would be very positive indeed.

Often, these organs become congested with waste, or what is called in Ayurveda, “ama.” This congestion may well be undetectable by modern medicine until gross symptoms of disorder prevent themselves. A good friend of mine, Crispin, in the prime of her life, was stricken by ovarian cancer and died at 41. I witnessed her valiant fight to live and the suffering that she so bravely endured. I watched helplessly as she died. Crispin’s suffering and death have inspired me to practice and teach the bandhas.

It is best to practice root lock on an empty stomach. Sit in any comfortable position. Siddhasana is ideal. Position the sole of the right foot against the inner left thigh with the right heel under the perineum. Otherwise, easy pose or any other comfortable sitting posture will suffice. Inhale a deep, three part breath, exhale, hold the breath out and draw the pelvic floor up, contract the lower abdominal muscles above the pubic bone and draw the naval inward toward the spine. As you release inhale deeply. Contract and release the root lock slowly several times to develop an easy acquaintance with this technique. Pay careful attention to what’s happening in your body.

Just like squeezing a sponge this powerful contraction massages the organs and tissues forcing them to push blood and fluids out of the cells. As the contraction is released the tissues expand and fresh blood and fluids flush the area for a cleansing effect. The muscles, organs, glands and cells also gain a firmer tone and better conditioning from repetitive rounds of root lock.

It is quite easy to incorporate the root lock into your asana practice as well. Forward bending postures, especially seated forward bends lend themselves very well to using root lock. The forward bending postures contract the front of the body and facilitate the root lock to maximum efficiency. Try it and you’ll immediately see what I mean.

As I have mentioned in previous posts, (Ashwini Mudra) the root lock can be quite effective in treating incontinence and sexual dysfunction as well.

This is by no means an exhaustive treatise on root lock, but it should be enough to get you started. Root lock can also be used in conjunction with pranayama, breath holding and mudras. The book footnoted above is one of the best to help guide you.

The bandhas are powerful practices. If you don’t feel confident practicing by yourself, find a qualified teacher and submit to their instruction. Also, if you have high blood pressure, hernia or other active conditions in the abdominal region these techniques are contraindicated. If you have pain or discomfort, discontinue the practice. If you have any doubts consult a trusted medical professional.

As always, begin your exploration of the root lock gently and mindfully. Be persistent and you will get results.

In future posts we will consider uddiyana and jalandhara bandhas. In addition to the physical benefits we will also look at how these methods raise the Kundalini energy and speed our union with the universal life force.

 

 

 

 

[1] Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha by Swami Satyananda Saraswati