Category Archives: Meditating

Legs Falling Asleep in Meditation?

Learned another great tip from Harshada at Abhaya last night:

If your legs start to fall asleep during meditation, switch to Baddha Konasana (Butterfly / Cobbler Pose) for a minute. Press the soles of the feet together. That should return some blood flow to the legs and wake them up.

Last night’s meditation built on Tara’s class about the three focal points: at the perineum, the heart, and the roof of the mouth. For each pose, the focal point is the one bearing most of the weight (usually lowest in space). So standing poses are focused on the pelvis, arm balances are focused on the heart, inversions are focused on the soft palette (generally). Tara had us imagine an egg at each one (as a symbol of rebirth, for Easter), drawing the muscular energy to this point and then opening away from it. Harshada had us silently repeat the syllable Ram at each one, slowly raising the vibration from the base of the spine into the skull. It was like sinking into a warm bath; super hypnotic.

The Zamboni Meditation

Tonight I learned the zamboni meditation, a wonderful experience from the wonderful Harshada Wagner at Abhaya Yoga.

Breathing in and out, up and down, you let the breath wash over you. Like the guy in the truck, smoothing out the scratches in the ice. Some ruts are deeper; these are your personality. Sometimes there are big holes; these are your experiences, good or bad. They all get smoothed out so that the skating can begin again.

This meditation stirs things up, and lets you release them. It washes out tension like water. It’s good for a bright spring day, or pretty much every day. Also, the name is hilarious.

During the meditation I was very distracted, my mind wandered all over my body, but when we opened our eyes I felt amazing. Harshada said this is common; to get more enjoyment out of the actual experience, the actual transformation, focus on the heart.

Mirror Meditation for Pain

Mirror the other
Mirror the other

I got a cute tip from the lovely Amanda Zapanta this weekend. She said she’d had a hip injury, too. But instead of focusing on the bum hip, she made sure to focus on the good one, and then imagined herself blowing the sensations of health over to the bad side. She did it all the time ó on the train, on the couch, in class ó and the pain went away!

Reminds me of the New Yorker’s article on the use of mirrors to cure phantom limb pain. (A reader followed up that article with a story of their own cure.) Very cool.

The Yoga Sutras – Book 1 & 2

Book 1, Sutra 4: At other times [the Self appears to] assume the forms of the mental modifications.

Book 1, Sutra 30: Disease, dullness, doubt, carelessness, laziness, sensuality, false perception, failure to reach firm ground and slipping from the ground gained Ė these distractions of the mind-stuff are the obstacles.

Iíve been thinking about obstacles. New York is full of them. About a month ago I went to the kirtan at Sonic and one of the song we did was a chant to Ganesha. One of the cantors talked about Ganesha as the remover of obstacles, or the one who carefully places obstacles in our way when we need them. I didnít understand this later explanation and itís been nagging at the back of my mind.

In Book 1, Sutra 30, Patanjali talks about the nature of obstacles, and their residence in the mind. Despite that I consider my biggest obstacles to live outside of my own body, Patanjali reminds me that the true obstacles are within, in the mind. Linking this to Book 1, Sutra 4, I realized that the most effective way to remove obstacles, internal or external, is to change my mind about them.

I thought some more about the cantor’s description of Ganesha. The Prana has a sense of humor and a sense of deep compassion. There are obstacles within me that I have been turning away from for too long. I deal with them by avoiding them. So Ganesha, in his wisdom, forces me to deal with my obstacles by placing other obstacles in my way that I must respond to, ones that I cannot turn away from. And in dealing with those obstacles, I am being forced to deal with the bigger obstacles within.

I need to slow down, to learn how to make and stick to boundaries, to find my edge and live there Ė mentally and physically Ė so he handed me a yoga practice so intense that I have a sore bum and the need for far more sleep than usual. I have no choice but to slow down and consider what it is that Iím really trying to do with this life. For too long, Iíve been so worried that if I slow down, Iíll miss out. Iíll lose an opportunity or a lucky break.

Since I was a child, I have struggled with insomnia. My mind and my body literally couldnít calm down and go to sleep. Now almost 2/3 of the way through this yoga teacher training, I am sleeping better than I ever have in my life. For 18 minutes a day, I think about these two Sutras. I think about changing my mind, and I wait. And the opportunities, better than ever, are showing up. I donít need to keep looking around for a better life. The one I have is amazing; nowís the time to slow down and appreciate every moment.

Find a Sacred Place

wp000119“Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors where there were only walls.” ~ Joseph Campbell

At the suggestion of a friend, I’ve been reading a lot of Joseph Campbell lately. I recently watched his DVD interviews with Bill Moyers around the idea of myth and the hero’s journey. A piece of the interviews that really caught my attention is their discussion about the importance of having a sacred place in our lives.
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Take a Cigarette Breath

Take a Cigarette Breath
Take a Cigarette Breath

I’ve always said that smoking is the American meditation. (Maybe the European one, too?) Taking a moment for yourself, focusing completely on your breath, noticing all the little sensations in your lungs, skin, and brain — isn’t that what meditation is all about? Yes, you could choose nicer companions than tar and ammonia. But let’s not neglect the little health routine that you’ve learned from smoking…

Read the whole thing at the Huffington Post: Take a Cigarette Breath

The Happiest Man in the World

Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche
Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche

The Times has a profile of Tibetan monk Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, “The Happiest Man in the World.” He’s released a new book called Joyful Wisdom describing his methods.

In his book he recounts being extremely anxious as a child in Nepal, having had what a Manhattan psychiatrist would likely diagnose as panic attacks, and how he cured himself of this chronic anxiety by making his fears the focus of his meditation. He has had to earn his good cheer.

Rinpoche has studied both Western science and Tibetan Buddhist meditation in detail. He’s participated in scientific studies of meditation; since he’s spent over 10,000 hours meditating he’s considered an adept. (That’s the threshold for excellence, according to research.)

One form of meditation that seems particularly conducive to happiness, and stress reduction, is mindfulness meditation. This is generally a practice of observing the thoughts, body, etc, without trying to change anything. A clinical study of beginning meditators at a high-stress office, practicing mindfulness meditation thirty minutes a day for eight weeks, left them “saying that instead of feeling overwhelmed and hassled, they were enjoying their work.”

If you’d like some instruction in this practice, I know that Om Factory and New York Insight offer guided classes appropriate for all levels. Allyson Pimental and Michael Fayne, who teach the class at Om Factory, said that mindfulness meditation has been shown to help heart disease, multiple sclerosis, anxiety, depression, and many other ailments. My very first class at New York Insight got rid of a clenched jaw I hadn’t been able to close for two weeks. (Yes, I was a little stressed out.) I’ve also heard good things about the Dharma Punx talks at Lila Wellness. But there are many great centers around town, and many classes are by donation. So go try one on!

Yoga of/for Relationships

Last night in class, during the opening meditation, Amanda Zapanta asked us to think about what we look for in a partner ó whether we’re single or in a relationship.

She read / talked about how what we look for in a relationship is often something we’re not giving ourselves. Think about that.

We have the inherent capacity to be happy, healthy and whole. Looking for strength, nurturing, cheerleading, or security from our partner ignores our ability to adjust our mental state and our habits to provide those things for ourselves.

It reminded me of another teacher, talking about relationships (I’ll find the link later), who said that relationships must be based on JOY, not NEED. Anytime we’re looking outside ourselves for happiness, we’re setting up trouble.

It’s an interesting thing to think about. The idea of “you complete me” is outdated; we need to complete ourselves, and free ourselves to have relationships based on sharing joy.

What Is Real? What Is Meditation?

Theologue by Alex Grey
Theologue by Alex Grey

So we’re sitting comfortably. What’s next?

With the focus between the eyebrows, there’s a slight buzzing. Like a fly circling in front of the forehead. With further attention the pulse becomes noticeable, a slight throbbing pressure. The eyes are still dancing around; once they are still, the head will become darker. As if you’re in a theater, watching a projection on the back of your forehead, and they’ve just dimmed the lights. All of this is very subtle; it would be drowned out by the TV or a single thought.

In mindfulness meditation, we would watch the errant thoughts and sensations arise and depart. In this meditation, we’re seeking union with a chosen object, the point between the eyebrows, our center of intuition. We can hold in our minds the question “What is real?” to anchor our search, WITHOUT trying to solve it. Just returning again and again to the questioning: is this buzzing real? is this pressure real? is this darkness real?

Be receptive to healing, be receptive to feeling.

What is real? We look at a photo, and know that it is an image, not real, but it depicts a time and place and object which WAS real. We look at our bodies, and they have changed since the year before, the day before, the second before. What is reality?

Dive into the question without trying, without “figuring”, without “meditating”. Fall into the question as if falling asleep. Absorbed and absorbing the resting state.

Dive into the sensation between the eyebrows, the pulses like waves of the ocean, rippling outward through the body. Feel each breath slowly amplify the quiet quiet hissing and buzzing. Listen, and listen again. Feel every sound like an echo on the forehead. Let the mind be completely absorbed.

This practice is rejuvenating yet calming. The thoughts and body have fallen away, a new layer of the self shines out. Meditation is a space in which we listen to all the millions of subtle sensations going on inside our skins, and give energy to our inner workings. Thirty minutes before bed each night is excellent; we often waste that much time just “getting to” sleep. Try it as your homework for the next month.

The Hardest Asana: Easy Pose

When I first started meditating, it was not what you’d call meditation. I’d sit down, close my eyes, try to focus, and promptly have a panic attack about all the things I should be doing besides SITTING ON THE FLOOR DOING NOTHING.

Gradually, I learned that there is some actual technique to this hobby. Yes, it’s incredibly simple, but in the same way that running is simple ó you can still trip on a rock or run into a tree.

Lesson number one: Sitting on the floor is a posture, just like Triangle or Down Dog. There are alignment tips that will make it way more comfortable. Alignment is even MORE important in a meditative pose, since you’ll be holding it for ten, twenty, sixty minutes. I used to get so mad at myself for fidgeting, until I realized IT’S ANOTHER ASANA and set up properly. Now, I usually spend the first couple minutes of my meditation adjusting my pose; I guess that’s actually the pre-med. :)

  • Sit against a wall to start. We all know that the spine should be straight when meditating, but we might not realize we’re not actually sitting straight. Hard-core meditators might say this impedes the flow of energy or something, but I became WAY more relaxed and upright when I learned where vertical actually was. Plus, the pressure of the wall against my shoulder blades let my breath actually expand my lungs.
  • Elevate the hips, so that blood can flow easily to the knees and the hip flexors can completely relax. Even if you’re in Full Lotus, sit on a blanket or a block.
  • Cross the legs comfortably. You’ll have to experiment with this one ó what’s comfortable for thirty seconds is not necessarily comfortable for thirty minutes. When you find that whoops, you’ve chosen an excruciating position, just make a note of that for next time, adjust your legs slightly, and begin your meditation again. (Note: any movement restarts your meditation, so you’ll probably have several short meditations in your early sessions, not one long one.) Don’t worry about getting to Lotus ó the only thing you feel there is “wow, my back is straight!” Worry about your feet, ankles, knees, hips, and back, and what they’re telling you.
  • Rest the hands easily on your thighs or lap. Palms face down is slightly more calming, palms face up is more open, and one palm in the other (non-dominant hand on top, thumbs touching) is more focusing.
  • Release the shoulders. I have to roll them forward, up, and back a few times to get them to relax and hang straight. When they’re relaxed, you’ll be able to feel your sternum rising and falling with the breath.
  • Elongate the neck. This is a tricky one. Your neck curves slightly forward, so you want to straighten the curve just a little by moving the chin an inch backwards, as if you’re pressing the back of your head into someone’s raised hand. You just want the muscles at the back of the neck to relax, so you have to make sure your big bowling ball of a head is not hanging forward. If you’re a yoga practitioner, you can stop doing ujayi now ;)
  • Relax the face, including the eyes, ears, and tongue. It’s amazing how much tension we hold in the face. How many people have you seen on the street with a furrowed brow ’cause they’re thinking so hard? I used to feel like I should say something to them… until my mom said I do the same thing! The hardest part about releasing your habits is actually noticing them. A lot of times someone else has to tell us; that’s why we go to yoga class. (If you tend to stress, cup the hands and touch the center of the forehead. Draw the fingertips away from each other, across the forehead, to release stress. Repeat at the hairline, the crown of the head, and down the back of the head.) Let the eyes relax like bean bags in the eye sockets. Pointing them towards the tip of the nose (not up towards the Third Eye) will help.

OK, now you’re comfortable. You can have a nice meditation just slowly scanning through these points, finding the millions of subtle sensations inside the skin. If you train yourself to actually admit your knees are hurting a bit, or your stomach is aching, you will prevent injury and answer your own questions about diet and lifestyle. If you find any points of pain, spend a little extra time focusing there. Just notice what thoughts flow through your head as you focus on each part of the body. And relax.

Tomorrow I’ll cover some the mental pieces.