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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The Intimate Breath

The breath is not only how we receive the vitality of life, but it is our most intimate connection with Universal Prana, or creative force. Our first and last breaths define the boundaries of our physical lives. Yet, most of us ignore the breath and remain largely innocent of its power to transform our lives. The breath is automatic. Since it is automatic, we simply let it run on auto pilot as we go about our automatic lives. But the breath can also be transgressive, subversive and revolutionary. It is the sacred tool to break the robotic molds into which popular culture is being used to mold us.

Yoga and other related sciences of transformation like Ayurveda, Qigong, and Tai Chi, invite us to use the breath consciously. Within the conscious breath lie worlds that are hidden from everyday life. The art and science of using the breath with conscious control is the difference between mere existence and plumbing the depth of existence itself.

In Yoga, using the breath consciously is called Pranayama. Pranayama means to expand the life force, to energize ourselves toward a larger potential. To extend our life force with the breath requires only one, but very important feature: one-pointed attention.

In a world with so many stimuli clamoring for our attention, this is something most folks just don’t get around to or are even aware is possible. We have been programmed and dazzled by the media culture to the point that we seldom think our own thoughts. We need only simply look around and see people absorbed in their “devices,” imbibing artificial data streams of often meaningless entertainment to keep us from thinking our own thoughts. Asking people to simply sit quietly, following their breath, the most powerful personal force they will ever know, seems pretty poor competition for the seemingly glamorous distractions offered to us by our media saturated world.

But if you have reached the point of being sick with this saturation, and what is really colonization of your once-autonomous mind, then here is your invitation to break the collective trance under which so many of us have fallen. Here is the chance to develop a love and connection that is the basis for all transformative human experience. Here is the chance to liberate ourselves from the mind gobbling media behemoth that lusts to enslave and consume us. Your simple, life-giving breath is your salvation from a world of ruinous conformity and your ticket to true intimacy with yourself and genuine connection to other human beings who long for humanity, truth and freedom.

The intimate breath is the breath that we use in meditation. It is slow and measured. How do we measure the breath? The intimate breath is not measured with machines, nor is it recorded on graphs. It is measured with attention. When we sit comfortably, we can simply watch the breath as it rises and falls. The intimate breath is a breath where the attention watches each milliliter of breath inhaled and exhaled. By this minute attention we account for every moment of the golden present. This is rapt attention! This is absorption into union with the Universe, the one song, the eternal Presence of cosmic creation. This is the essence of yoga. A taste of this nectar renders its competitors pale by comparison.

This is attention so sharp that it pares away the irrelevance of the colonizing commercial clatter that assaults us daily. This is liberation from a type of possession that seeks to program and use us for the latest trend of mass hypnosis. This attentive breath is a breath so fine that direct knowledge can well up within us from this divine connection to the cosmos without being filtered through the greed of those who would control and dominate us.

The intimate breath is the get out of jail free card that unlocks the door into the intuitive knowledge that precedes all other knowledge.

Using this intimate, attentive breath gives us access to the deep well of knowing, knowing that shines a light into the dark places of the human psyche to help us release our potential as beings of boundlessness.

 

 

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.

Yoga to the Rescue!

 

I hear such wonderful stories from my students about the truly amazing benefits they are enjoying because of their yoga practice. The range of conditions that yoga treats continues to amaze me.

Karen:

Karen is a 65 year old woman diagnosed with osteoporosis last year. She was adamantly opposed to pharmaceutical treatment. Karen began coming to my yoga class in 2011 or 2012. She told me of her illness and asked if yoga could help. I told her that I was confident that it could. She came to class faithfully, even recruiting her husband, Roger. She practiced daily at home as well. I emphasized the standing postures, especially the one-legged balance poses and other postures that put her body in weight-bearing resistance to gravity. A year later she got another bone scan. Karen’s expectations were low; she hoped that she just wouldn’t lose anymore bone density. Her results astounded her and her doctors. Karen gained eight-percent bone density in her spine and one-and-one-half-percent in her femurs. She was thrilled! She was above the bone fracture threshold and no longer had osteoporosis. She also lost a chronic cough and banished her vertigo during this same time.

Yoga uses the weight of the body to send the signal that it needs to build more bone. The weight bearing poses of yoga asana put the body into many different relationships to gravity. This prompts the body to build bone in response to these weight bearing poses.

Debbie:

I taught a yoga class to Debbie and her co-workers at their work place. Even though she was not in the best condition, this late-thirty something was enthusiastic about yoga practice. We were able to practice together for only about 12 weeks before budget cuts nixed our yoga sessions, but she learned fast and well.

Debbie struggled with asthma and would sometimes wake from sleep at the onset of an asthma attack.

One of the central teachings of yoga is the conscious use of the breath to promote wellness and combat disease.

One night she awoke in a panic with an asthma attack. Suddenly, she remembered the long, slow three-part breathing we practiced in class. She composed herself and began using this technique. As she breathed slowly and deeply she began to relax and her attack melted away. This gave her a feeling of tremendous empowerment. She no longer had to be afraid because she knew how to stop these attacks in their tracks.

Hunter:

Just barely 50, Hunter is the picture of vibrant health and loves her yoga practice. Just weeks ago she was riding a Segway, the two-wheeled personal transport. She crashed, severely spraining her ankle and back. In moments she found herself alone in an emergency department treatment room waiting for a doctor. Hunter felt herself going into shock. She wanted to do something to help herself. She remembered her breath as we’d practiced it so many times in class. As she focused and breathed consciously she blocked the advance of the shock and restored herself to calm, lucid, normal awareness. She, too, had realized the power of her breath and was so grateful that she hadn’t been more badly injured considering the potential consequences of her accident.

These are not uncommon stories among yoga practitioners. They are the results available to us as we increase our consciousness through the use of asana and pranayama, or yogic breathing techniques.