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.

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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.

Slower, Softer, Longer

This entry is a sequel to a previous post titled, “Prana Dance.” It deals with how we use yoga asana practice to distribute prana (life force energy) into the cells and psyche of our beings. This may sound abstract and hard to put your finger on, but actually it is the very physical, experiential act of willfully routing energy throughout the nadis or circuits of our bodies’.

One of the best ways to embody this act is by working with an injury or disease condition. I’m working with a couple of injuries now that are teaching me a lot about how to balance energy in my practice in order to promote healing. Injuries can be great friend and teachers if we are willing to listen to them. So, if you have an active injury or condition that you’re working with—listen carefully to the language of sensation. This language will help you sense the proper relationship you must build with that malady in order to heal yourself. Injuries or disease can deliver us from our own inclinations to keep pushing ahead as we unconsciously ignore our need to heal.

If self-healing is a foreign concept to you, consider this. Our bodies’ have amazing innate healing intelligence. Healing is programmed into our DNA. The most common form of healing we experience everyday is sleep. As a friend of mine likes to say, “Rest is repair.” Whether we are stressed out, banged up or suffering with a cold, a good night’s sleep generally makes things better. This restful repair occurs while we are unconscious. We can build on this rejuvenation with conscious awareness of breath and movement in our yoga asana practice.

A normal, healthy body can usually adapt to periods of high intensity exercise or stress. However, when we exceed our limits and sustain injury we need the slower, softer, longer approach to heal ourselves.

To implement this style of practice we must develop a keen sense of tender loving care toward our injuries. After an initial period of rest following an injury we enter what is called the sub-acute stage of healing. This is when carefully applied asana and breath can speed healing.

As we begin to re-engage a damaged muscle, joint, organ or mental aspect we must do so slowly, more softly, and we hold our posture longer. It may sound like a love relationship. Well, it is. This is part of how we love ourselves. Self-care is born of self-love.

Take a common hamstring injury for example. Over stretching causes tearing and pain. As we heal, we may begin to work the muscle(s) again by slowly pushing into a pose up to the border of discomfort. When we reach that border we softly sustain the pose and hold the pose for a long comfortable engagement. The final ingredient to this elixir of gentleness is the massaging breath. With a slow, soft, long sustain like a beautiful piano chord we infuse the pose with the healing massage of the breath. This combination of mindful actions tells the nervous system that this is a safe practice. As the nervous system gets the message, pain decreases and allows us to work more deeply as we continue our recovery.

This approach also serves as a metaphor for how we live our lives. Living with greater awareness, deliberation and persistence will serve to help us reach our personal goals and in our relationship with our planet and its myriad beings.

Your Own Persona Massage Therapist!

 

Wouldn’t it be great to have your own personal massage therapist? You do.

Many of us have enjoyed the deep relaxation of a massage at the hands of a skilled practitioner. When the massage is finished we lie on the table in semi-consciousness with every muscle in our bodies free and released from tension. Ahhhh.

But what about those places that external massage just can’t get to? The organs and glands need stimulation, cleansing and toning too. A massage on a passive body, as glorious as it is, cannot address the body while it’s active.

This is where the conscious breath is used in conjunction with asana and gravity to massage the body in a unique, singular fashion.

Part of the genius of asana, or yoga postures, is how each posture directs energy into the body differently. As we listen to our bodies and breathe deeply we can see where the energy goes and how it pushes into our deep tissues. This is the massaging quality of the breath. Choose any posture and then apply the three-part breath and see where the massaging quality of the breath goes.

An easy, effective way to demonstrate this to yourself is to practice bridge pose. Lie on

your back with the feet just under your knees in front of the buttocks. Push into your feet and raise the sacrum and spinal column off the ground so your torso is suspended like an arched bridge between the feet and shoulder blades. Breathe deeply into your belly and sacrum. Draw the breath up into your heart and push your chin down onto the top of your sternum (breastbone). Keep the breath flowing deeply yet comfortably and be aware of the massage being received by the kidneys and adrenal glands

just above them. Notice also how the wave-like motion of the inhalation compresses all the abdominal organs. Lastly, as the breath fills the lungs from bottom to top, feel it move through the heart and thymus and into the thyroid and parathyroid glands in the throat.

With the chin pushed down onto the sternum, you are performing jalandhara bandha or throat lock. At the fullness of your inhalation this lock forms an energy dam so that the whole interior torso is filled with the energy or prana of the breath. This is the peak of the massaging energy of the breath in this posture.

By applying the deep, three-part breath to this simple pose, so many vital organs and glands are being deeply massaged by the breath from the interior. This is why I tell my students that the breath is your own personal massage therapist.

This is just one example of how the breath plays through the body supplying deep, purifying massage. Use this technique in every pose and note where the breath goes and what gets massaged as a result. Your awareness and practice of this pranayama, or expansion of the universal energy via the breath, will deepen your strength, range of motion and flexibility as it purifies your organs and glands.

Practice in vigor and health!

Namaste!