May all sentient beings…

IMGYogaHandsOffer1May all sentient beings enjoy happiness and the root of happiness.

May we be free from suffering and the root of suffering.

May we not be separated from the great happiness devoid of suffering.

May we dwell in the great equanimity free from passion, aggression, and prejudice.

—The Four Limitless Ones from Comfortable with Uncertainty by Pema Chödrön—

In honoring the 49 lives lost this past Sunday during the mass shooting in Orlando, Florida, as well as the survivors, family members, friends, and the community-at-large, I offer the Four Limitless Ones chant and carry it with me throughout these days in my heart, my words, and my actions.

“To move from aggression to unconditional loving-kindness can seem like a daunting task. But we start with what’s familiar,” says Chödrön in Comfortable with Uncertainty. She offers a formal seven-step practice to awaken loving-kindness.

The first step in the practice involves starting with awakening loving kindness for yourself by reciting the first line from the Four Limitless Ones chant. From there, each step involves awakening loving-kindness for others starting with those who spontaneously come to mind, to friends or neighbors, to those individuals you feel neutral about, to those you dislike, and so on and so forth.

In practicing awakening loving-kindness you allow your heart to open to acceptance and understanding. Understanding can go a long way in bridging differences among people, in bringing communities together, and in promoting peace.

 

 

 

Music and Mantra: Being with Sound

BuddhaMantra
As you go about your day, you may have words you repeat to yourself as a reminder, as a way to boost your confidence, or perhaps as words you live by. Sometimes you may find yourself repeating a mantra or something said in a yoga class. Thoughts or phrases you return to can have a powerful effect on your perceptions and behavior. Mantras especially can serve as a way to calm the mind, allow for healing, and open the heart to acceptance, self-love, and compassion.

Centering

A yoga class often begins with the chant of om, or aum, as a centering practice. A root or bija mantra, om represents beginningless time, it sets off an internal vibration, releases energy and prepares us for the physical practice. In meditation practice, a mantra purifies and focuses the mind and prepares us for the silence that follows.

Mantra derives from the sanskrit root word man, which means “to think” and the suffix tra, which means “instrument” or “tool.”

Nourishing

In “The Radiance Sutras,” Dr. Lorin Roche defines mantra as an instrument of thought, speech, sacred text or speech, a prayer or song of praise. He says classic meditative mantras can feel like sounds of nature or the hum of electricity while other mantras can be nourishing like food. When we return to mantras throughout our day, they can serve as a source of energy and fuel, a way to release burdensome thoughts, and a way to focus the mind. According to Roche, what matters is finding the sounds you love so much you want to be with them.

Understanding and offering compassion

In the space of the silence that follows mantra chanting, you may find insight and understanding. In “Teachings on Love,” Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh says, “To bring about harmony, reconciliation, and healing within, we have to understand ourselves.” Mantras carry meaning in them that with practice can help us learn self-acceptance but it begins with deep listening and allowing for openness in the heart. Mantras may also carry a wish for peace and healing in the world. The words can be infused with love and compassion for others as an offering.

Invitation to explore and be with sound

The workshop Live Music, Mantra, and Movement is an invitation to explore the healing and heart-opening sounds of mantra followed by movement and meditation. As a bonus, we’ll have talented singer and songwriter Diane Lutz sing mantras during the flowing asana practice.

A certified yoga teacher, Lutz was introduced to eastern philosophy and meditation at a young age. As a musician, she was magnetically drawn to chanting during her teacher training in 2010 when her journey began exploring the healing powers of mantra and kirtan.

For Lutz, chanting mantra helps to clear her mind from “chatter” and creates a great foundation for meditation.

“I find myself occasionally waking up chanting in my mind, which is such a pleasure to wake up to instead of, again, the “chatter” of my noisy mind,” says Lutz.

When she recites mantras she notices where the mantra resonates most within the body whether in the head, throat, heart, navel, etc.,

“I like to imagine that clearing of the energy in the space where I feel the sound as if the resonation is breaking up anything that may be blocking that space or blocking the flow of energy,” says Lutz.

During the workshop we will practice deep listening, tuning in to the powerful vibrations evoked from chanting then allow the mantras to resonate throughout the body through a flowing asana practice set to Lutz singing. We’ll follow the movement with silent meditation.

On how to get started with the practice, Lutz says, “Just start! The beauty of mantra is that it can be done anywhere…. all you need is your voice.”

She adds, “For my particular situation, being a stay-at-home mom, I am drawn to chant around 4 p.m. or 4:30 p.m. It’s nearing the end of a full day with the littles and it helps provide me with the energy I need and the patience I desire to enjoy the last few hours of the day with my kids.  My almost 4 year old has started sitting next to me and humming along from time to time.  Perhaps we all need it.”

Register now for Live Music, Mantra, and Movement with Adriana and Diane, being held Sunday, October 25, from 2pm-4pm: http://tinyurl.com/otkpwgn.

Originally posted on Yoga in the Heights blog.

How yoga can help you become more present

Credit: KatalinaStudio

It is easy to get caught up in the wandering mind that cycles through fear, worry, memory, planning and a whole host of other emotions, perceptions, and thoughts. While the mind wants to take you on a wild ride each second of the day, a number of techniques taught in yoga and meditation can help you remain centered and focused on the present moment. These include focusing on the breath, noticing sensation in the body, and being aware without judgement as well as practicing loving kindness towards yourself and others.

You are bound to be distracted throughout your day but pausing to breath and tune in can help you navigate whatever challenges you face. To learn more, check out my recent feature on the Yoga in the Heights blog, “How to become more present in your daily practice.”

Take a pen to the past

Watching the sunset by the Florida keys sometime in the eighties.

Watching the sunset by the Florida keys sometime in the eighties.

I think I may have found a way to cure my fear of spiders. It involves writing about the past to unlock when I first developed the phobia and to explore what types of emotions came up at the time. Then, I edit my perception of those experiences so that I create a new narrative—one where I feel empowered, perhaps see the spider as a friend, or as a creature that can bestow upon me special powers such as super human strength or the ability to shoot webs from my wrists. Finally, I envision myself peeing on the spider.

At least this is what I gathered from a recent story on NPR, “Editing your life’s stories can create happier endings.” The story describes a technique referred to as “story editing,” which psychologist Tim Wilson of the University of Virginia has studied as a way to improve emotional health. According to the article, Wilson “says small tweaks in the interpretation of life events can reap huge benefits.” Studies have shown that story editing, which is also referred to as emotional or expressive writing, can reduce stress, improve sleep, and reduce visits to the doctor.

The example NPR reporter Lulu Miller gives involves her 2 ½ year-old nephew who had an incredibly frightening experience with a Frankenstein statue. He eventually overcame that fear by changing the end of the story so that instead of jumping into his mother’s arms, he peed on the statue.

While I don’t necessarily think that changing what you know to be true about a traumatic past event is a good practice, I do believe that writing about the experience and developing a framework of understanding can be helpful in overcoming emotional hurdles. From my experience, writing helps create space. You can step outside of the event and see it from a new perspective. Through writing you can also explore new interpretations.

Expressive writing may not be for everyone and shouldn’t replace the need to see an expert when it comes to getting beyond difficult experiences but there are tools and guides to help get you started in the process that are offered by Dr. James Pennebaker. For more information, the following feature from the University of Texas at Austin also offers a nice overview of the practice.  

I’m going to take a pen to the past and a stab at that first encounter with a spider.