Posted on

Is Yoga Meditation

This is a common question. No. No. No, is the simple answer. But it can be combined. Yoga in its purest form is a form of physical exercise. The combination with spiritualism came later. So, can it be? That is the real question. Asana is supposed to prepare the body for meditation by getting rid of restlessness or muscular tension. When I practice I will focus on 15 min meditation, 30 min yoga, and another 15 min of meditation. This allows me to turn my focus away from work and turn my focus inward, maybe transition with more energetic breathing to asanas, then wind down with a body scan and quiet savasana. I know it sounds strange. For me, I define myself as a realist. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t look inward to center myself. To provide a real grounding. A friend of mine. She was very dear (and still is) introduced me to it. Had we not been close I would have brushed her off without giving it much thought. An event that would have left me very unhappy in life. She introduced me to Kriya Yoga. She showed me at first and then I went on to teach myself from there. I executed the kriyas incorrectly, I began experiencing serious mental consequences, such as very basic psychosis; unsurprisingly, the book warned readers of this, which is why it also strongly advised seeking out a teacher before assuming this form of yoga. I am now a student of someone whom I consider has walked the path much, much further than I. My teacher advises against sharing these techniques. From personal experience, seeing to the fact the mental damage it had done to me while performing certain techniques without supervision of a teacher, I know it is wiser to not entice anyone to perform them. Kriya Yoga is considered yoga focused on creating mental action or “kriyas”. It is like creating a hurricane of mental power, and it becomes like fire, and burns through levels of thoughts. Paramhamsa Yogananda is famous for having introduced this form of yoga in the United States in the first-half of the 1900s. For what it’s worth, I can say I never knew I would be involved with the things I currently am regarding yoga and meditation.
Posted on

I Yoga: Do I Need To Meditate?

Does yoga equal meditation? Or is meditation a form of yoga? Yoga is more than stretching. Yoga has meditative aspects but it isn’t a replacement for meditation. Yoga, as commonly defined is an 8 fold path to enlightenment. Of those, about 5 involve some sort of meditation. That being said, there are many forms of moving meditation that may work, asana included. Some use walking meditation as a stepping stone. Hell, some days I make more mental progress doing pause squats than I do sitting down. It’s easier, for some people, to start with yoga and transition to a seated meditative practice later on. You see yoga can become like a moving meditation, but the true essence of meditation is obtained through not doing anything, just pure being, pure awareness, the separation of mind and consciousness. There are eight limbs of yoga, and the practice of asanas is only the third one, with the seventh being meditative absorption, and the eighth being integration. All of the limbs are important in order to achieve the last one. As for the benefits of yoga, the only way to truly experience them is to create your own personal daily practice, just like with meditation. I meditate for 30 minutes alone in a quiet place, and it often takes 5-15 minutes to go into a deep relaxed state, a state I’ve never come close to achieving through yoga. I tend to view yoga as a preparation for meditation. I have some back issues and am not able to sit comfortably until after yoga. So I do 15 minutes yoga, 30 minutes meditation, 15 minutes yoga. It also helps me focus my attention for meditation after all the multitasking I do at work. The goal of asana practice is to prepare the body for mediation.
Posted on

Standing Like A Post: Zhan Zhuang

  For me a session needs to have a balanced blend of meditation and yoga. Or some other form of physical exercise. Physical work and vigorous exercise should be part of your training, and this can be performed just before sittings so your body will be more comfortable and you will appreciate the cooler conditions. Some yoga meditation centers will keep their rooms warmer. They tend to focus more on relaxation than on vigor, although the distinction is not black-and-white, and you’ll find variations among all styles. In the winter I often move to Zhan Zhuang. The cold will not have any negative side-effects on your meditation, not at all. I actually prefer meditating in a cooler place, because I think it helps keep me alert. But when sitting in the cold you should protect the vulnerable areas that can be easily penetrated by cold. When you meditate in the cold make sure to cover your upper back and the back of your neck, up to the base of your skull. This spot is notorious in Chinese Medicine as a place where wind and cold easily enter the body and create sickness. Keep your lower back well protected. Even if you don’t want to wear many layers on the rest of your body, the kidney area just below the ribs should be kept warm and protected against drafts. Although cold may not penetrate as easily there, the repercussions are more serious if it does. I once got a kidney infection by being exposed to the IL winter. When I later learned that this area is seen as the deep energy storage for the body, and its weakness is cold; protecting it became a priority to help prevent the kind of deep exhaustion and illness that otherwise can occur in winter. Cover your knees or wear thicker pants or warmers. The knees are another gateway where cold can enter, and they are connected to the deep storage area around the kidneys. As large joints they also don’t have as much blood supply circulating through them, so the joints themselves become vulnerable to injury. If it’s cold enough to warrant it, you may want to wear a hat, as some monks do. Zhan zhuang standing practice in Qigong can heat your body up very quickly, and can train your ability to allow flow within minutes; and flow means circulation, which means warmth.
Zhàn zhuāng, literally: “standing like a post“, is a training method often practiced by students of neijia (internal kung fu), such as Yiquan, Xing Yi Quan, Bagua Zhang and Taiji Quan. Zhan Zhuang is sometimes translated Standing-on-stake, Standing Qigong, Standing Like a Tree, Post-standing, Pile-standing, or Pylon Standing. It is commonly called a form of Qigong, despite the differences from other Qigong methods in Zhan zhuang’s orientation.
This is possible within a few weeks or months of standing practice, depending on your body and aptitude. This is useful because when we stay active outdoors; the body adapts to cold. It is even practiced here in the West. We just don’t realize it. By repeatedly exposing the body briefly to deep cold encourages cellular energy generation known as mitochondria activity. You can observe this with lumberjacks, who, may plunge their hands, feet, and face into snow to develop long-term resistance to cold, and some folks do regular plunges in cold baths or even icy lakes.
Posted on

Life Is Beautiful

Divine guidance

Does every flower flourish? No. A substantial number of them will also die during any of the steps. For other cycles it may even be the majority even in some cases.

Spring showers can destroy and drown the flower, winds will break it off. But it is perhaps the goal of the metaphor as well. Because what we might perceive as adversity at a given time is the very thing that will in fact make us stronger.

"Sometimes when you're in a dark place you think you have been buried when you have actually been planted."

Life cycles in such a way that there is a logical progression from one stage to the next. The picture above symbolizes that. It is a visual representation to the teachings of Divine Guidance that can give you the courage to overcome adversity.

"There was no danger for the seed, the seed could have survived millennia, but for the sprout many are the dangers. But the sprouts starts towards the unknown, towards the sun, towards the source of light, not knowing where, not knowing why. Great is the cross to be carried, but a dream possesses the seed and the seed moves.

The same is the path for Man. It is arduous. Much courage will be needed."

It is from the Osho Zen Tarot which has been a key aspect in my study and I feel that I know something about the subject. The book gives wonderful depth to the method.

Posted on

Why Do You Love To Cook?

The joy of a home cooked meal. There is something about it. I can’t tell you exactly what it is, why it means so much to me, or what it means to you. All I can clearly say is that it is not something that I really appreciated until it was gone. My mother can cook. And while we didn’t live on a far, suburban Chicago still knows how to bake an apple pie. For me, cooking is freedom, meditation, and a treat. It’s good for clearing my mind after a long day. I don’t get to cook at home nearly as much as I would like, but when I do I feel right at home. I also find great satisfaction in efficient prep, kitchen chemistry and resetting the space ready for next time. It is easy if you are motivated. But as my friends say: “why would I want to spend time cooking.” If you want to enjoy cooking, and I mean really enjoy it, you need to start out with something that is rewarding to you. Something that you like to eat when you are out because it is too much effort to make it yourself. Learn to master your favorite foods first. This will give you more knowledge than you will first realize. Whether that something readily available like pizza it doesn’t matter. You can always make a better pizza than you can buy. You simply need to practice. And who doesn’t like eating their practice? As you become more experienced and you optimize/organize you kitchen/tools/food storage abilities, it will become less of a chore and become easier and easier. Knowledge of food safety is also important. I am amazed when one of my friends will tell me they aren’t feeling well. That is what happens when you leave your takeout out for days before finishing it off. I am thoroughly amazed that none of them have come down with a nasty case of food poisoning. Use good ingredients. Even when you are getting started. It will be so much more rewarding. When you know how to cook, you can make food that’s better tasting, healthier, and more affordable than what you can get at a typical restaurant (even when you splurge on the really expensive ingredients). What’s not to love? Everyone needs to eat, but compliments are the best.
Posted on

You Are Not Alone

Many of our beliefs, voices and ideas are not our own. It is up to us to investigate what we believe, why we believe it, and to discard the things that don’t serve our growth and happiness. I like to think of all the noise and negativity and voices in the world akin to the dirt that must feel absolutely oppressive to a newly planted seed. It can be uncomfortable for young minds to push against the psychic pressure of the world, but we couldn’t exist and grow without this pressure! This world of right and wrong, black and white, 1’s and 0’s – this is the world of duality, and the tension of duality allows us to Be; it allows us to Live! We are a product of this world, yet we are meant to transcend it. Those voices that shaped us are not who we are. Our busy lives and schedules are not who we are. There’s a proverb that says “You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day – unless you’re too busy. Then you should sit for an hour.” I know it’s unrealistic that you might have the hour every day, but if ten minutes isn’t giving you much progress, try to start your day with 20-30 mins a few times a week. It’s also easier to mediate for longer in the mornings because the “too tired”, excuses that we might use are easier to avoid. Meditating before sleep is not recommended, unless you are doing some sort of guided meditation to get you into a relaxed state and ready for sleep. Most meditation is to practice being mindful or alert, and sleeping right after doesn’t give you the most relaxing sleep. WHile meditating before the night is not good. I’ve heard that it is normal when you’re first starting out to get drowsy, but that this goes away with practice. It is even the first stage in learning to meditate according to Sufi tradition.
Muraqaba is the Sufi word for meditation which means “to watch over”, “to take care of”, or “to keep an eye”. It implies that with meditation, a person watches over or takes care of his spiritual heart (or soul), and acquires knowledge about it, its surroundings, and its creator.
If you’re practicing mindfulness, then the morning is probably the best time to do it. You can also do what’s called in-breath meditation, which helps connect you to your higher bodies.
Posted on

My View On Meditation

You don’t need anything but your present moment, after all thats all there is. A “need” is an aggression towards yourself and your present moment. A need to improve is an aggression toward yourself hindering your ability to improve. A need to make more use of your time is a thief that robs you of the here and now. It is easy to grasp, but to master it, you must first master yourself. When I got started I realized that it as hard to handle a prolonged session. For example when I started it was impossible to gain relaxation of the facial muscles, especially eyes muscles. Over time it helped me quite a bit just noticing how the eye movements would change and decrease after a while, and when they finally stop it’s a very good feeling. If I had had one piece of advice given to me back when I first started I think that it would have been to start small. When people talk with me about it, I suggest very short snippets of time in every kind of situation. Like that you do not need to sped long stretches of time meditating and becoming frustrated when it feels like you are not making progress. Even 20 seconds or even 5 secs at a time, but the key here is doing it many times. This isn’t a real substitute for longer meditation sessions but it helps quite a bit to get a hang on starting, and above all it helps a lot to develop “presence” of mind. It’s definitely helpful especially if you work in front of a screen all day long. The reason is because that can produce a nasty state of mind, one which almost erases the effects of meditation. I use it during the day while I am at work in short bursts to refocus. When I am getting drained I will do it. Sometimes without even realizing it. Basically I don’t have any excuse how to do it, I need to practice not to do it. At least all of the time. Especially during my commute. Some preach long sessions only, they see them as the only way to go but then again, start small. Its better being consistent than pushing for long seshions and ending up being unmotivated to sit for 30 min each time. My bottomline view is that it is important to do shorter sessions. Even if you don’t get the full benefit. Sit 5 minutes, even less if that is too much. Start from there and as you progress you might wanna do longer periods.
Posted on

Geo What?

It’s called Geocaching. And as you might have guessed it is a website, you can find it under http://www.geocaching.com/. My friends and I play it sometimes. The idea is sort of like treasure hunting. For me the added bonus is that I get to spend time with my friends doing something fun. On top of that I have gotten to see a lot of places that I otherwise wouldn’t have seen. The gist is that people create and hide varying size “caches” and then upload the GPS coordinates to a website. Others than download the coordinates onto a handheld GPS like you phone you don’t need much. Just some time to go out and find it. Sometimes there’s just a log you sign, other times people will leave stuff to take. You can also log your finds on the same website. To date my favorite find was a Backstreet Boys album and a picture of MacGuyver.
Posted on

When in Chicago Do As the Chicagoans Do

Urbs in Horto

I moved away from our lovely city of gardens when I went to college. It was a big adjustment at first and I missed my city deeply, but it was one of growth as well. Because of that I feel like I lived up to our/your city’s motto fairly well. But it is always a little bit bittersweet when I visit and I have to return “home.” Which is really home? I often encourage people to visit. For one, it is cheaper that some of the other big cities, and it has a lot to offer. A trip to Starved Rock state park is about an hour and a half outside of the city, but feels very remote. Do you get that when you travel to NYC? If you enjoy hiking, Midwest hiking (there is a distinction), it is a nice experience. You will be treated to some lovely canyons and waterfalls there. And check out Matthiessen State Park as well. It is smaller, it amounts to about a a mile long canyon, but it is a fun experience when walk through it. One thing that I have begun to notice when I got back is that you will encounter many European tourists. They enjoy traveling the Old Route 66 from Chicago to Springfield, Illinois, making it sort of a day trip. Some of the bigger towns along the way make a special effort to welcome them. There are several organizations that provide information. But that is far from everything. If you like history, you can go to the Cahokia Mounds in Colinsville and on the return trip stop in Springfield, IL to see some sites where President Lincoln lived. Another fun trip is going to Galena, Il which has lots of history and great architecture. But be warned, the downtown has turned into pretty much of a tourist trap with all the “ye olde” stores there.

Outside of Chicago?

Something in Wisconsin might interest you. In fact it is where Chicagoans go to escape the concrete jungle. It’s a two day trip but it is where you go to see the great outdoors. For example, if you are looking for a true hike, you will want to explore Devil’s Lake State Park. There are some pleasant trails there. and some awesome rock formations that are usually occupied by true climbers. Definitely worth a trip, and you can hike from 5 miles to 20 miles before heading back to the city in the same day. It’s about a 3 hour drive, and you could stop in Madison for the night (it’s the capital city of Wisconsin). The area has plenty to offer.