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meditation

Meditation practises range from relaxation response meditation, yoga, breathing exercises, zazen, silent repetition of a word and autogenic training to steady aerobic exercise and even biofeedback. Let's dive in.

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zazen

zazen

One of the simplest ways of meditating, this technique involves nothing more than just being aware of your breathing. But don't be deceived by its simplicity. It is a potent tool for stilling the mind and regenerating the body. And concentrating your awareness on the breath is not as easy as it sounds. You need to find yourself a quiet place where you will not be disturbed. You can sit cross-legged on the floor with a small cushion underneath you, or you can sit in a chair if you prefer, but your back should be straight. This straight-back position is a requirement for many meditation techniques, since it creates a physical equilibrium which makes calm mental focus possible. Let your hands rest quietly in your lap. count your breaths Close your eyes. Take several long, slow breaths, breathing from your abdomen so it swells out with each in-breath and sinks in again when you breathe out. Now rock your body from side to side and then around in large, gentle circles from your hips to the top of your head. Rock in increasingly smaller circles until you gradually come to rest in the center. Now breathe in and out through your nose quietly without doing anything to your breathing - that is, don't try to breathe deeper or slower or faster, just breathe normally. With each out-breath count silently to yourself. So it goes: in-breath, out-breath `one'...in-breath, out-breath `two'... and so on up to ten, counting only on the out-breath. When you get to ten, go back and begin again at one. If you lose count halfway, it doesn't matter. Go back and start the count at one again. Counting isn't the point. It is a way of focusing your mind on your breath. After fifteen minutes - sneak a look at your wristwatch if you must - stop. Sit still for a moment, then open your eyes and slowly begin to go about your everyday activities again. If you are like most people, the first few times you do the exercise you will find you lose count often and you are frequently distracted by thoughts or noises. It makes no difference. It works just as well anyway. Each time some random thought distracts you, simply turn your mind gently back again to counting the breaths. Distractions don't change the effectiveness of the meditation. The exercise, like most techniques, is best done twice a day, morning and evening. A beginner will usually notice positive results by the end of a week, but they become increasingly apparent the longer you go on doing it. Some Buddhist monks do this exercise for two or three years before beginning any other form of meditation. beyond relaxation Once you are familiar with the practice of deep relaxation or meditation and with all the benefits it can bring you, you might be interested to go on to investigate other, more complex forms of meditation. There are many, for meditation is not a word that is easy to define. It takes in such different practices. Some forms such as zazen or vispassana (sometimes called insight meditation) demand complete immobility. You sit watching the rise and fall of your abdomen as you breathe, and whenever your mind wanders you gently turn it back to this observation. This simply concentrated attention, which can be likened to the `continuum of awareness' in Gestalt theory, is capable of bringing up many repressed feelings and thoughts that have been stifling your full expression and of liberating them. The Siddha Yoga of Muktananda and the chaotic meditation of Rajneesh, where the body is let go to move as it will, are examples of this sort. They often involve spontaneous changes in muscle tension and relaxation and in breathing, and they demand a sense of surrender to the physical body for the release of the mental, emotional and bodily tensions. These kinds of meditation can be particularly good for someone with a tendency to be physically rigid. Then there are the visualization meditations such as those used in Tibetan Buddhism in which you focus your mind on a particular image, fine-tuning it to the specific beneficial energies or influences this symbol carries (the creative imagery techniques in the next section are also an example of this kind of meditation). They have been used recently to cure serious illness and also in the sports world to improve athletic performance. Another form of meditation is that of "mindfulness," where you go about your daily activities simply being aware of each thing that you do, as in Gurdjieff's "self-remembering," shikantaza or mahamudra. These are just a few of the possibilities worth investigating if you want to go further. Each has something worthwhile to offer, and the mere act of learning a new method and the set of ideas and attitudes that go with it can be an exciting experience as well as tremendously beneficial.

Mantra Magic

Mantra Magic

Herbert Benson, who wrote The Relaxation Response and Maximum Mind, discovered that measurable physical benefits accrue from practicing any form of meditation which depends on the silent repetition of a mantra - a word-sound. This can be done by repeating any word over and over while the eyes are closed and the body is in a quiet state. Meditation using a mantra has a long tradition. Some mantras are said to be sacred words that have particular sound vibrations which transmit particular powers. Each tradition has its own mantras such as Guru Om, Om mani padme hum, La ilaha illa 'lla or, in the Catholic religion, Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Whether their magic aspects are true or not, the technique works beautifully to replace the habitual chatter that runs through one's mind, worries about things past and things yet to come. Benson suggests you find a word that is pleasing to you. It could be anything, say, `flower', `peace', or `love'. He likes the word `one' as it is simple and has the connotation of unity about it. Here's how. Find a quiet place where you won't be disturbed for fifteen to twenty minutes and a comfortable chair that supports your back. Sit down and close your eyes. Give yourself a moment to settle in and you are ready to begin. Simply sit there, feet on the floor and eyes closed, quietly repeating your word over and over to yourself: `one...one...one...' Whenever your mind wanders or you are disturbed by a sound or thought, simply turn your mind gently back to repeating the word again. That is all there is to it. After fifteen to twenty minutes, stop repeating the mantra and get ready to open your eyes. Open your eyes, stretch, and go about your everyday activities. This is a particularly useful technique once you have practiced it a few times because you can do it in so many different places, such as in a waiting room or on a commuter train or bus.

Relaxation Response Meditation

Relaxation Response Meditation

Harvard professor and expert in cardiology and behavioral medicine, Herbert Benson MD, began the first scientific studies into the effects of meditation almost 40 years ago. Ever since, Benson and his colleagues at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital have continued to conduct clinical research and to map the benefits of regularly practicing the relaxation response: In Benson’s own words, "a physical state of deep rest that changes the physical and emotional responses to stress.” The relaxation response can enhance brain function, slow age-related changes, stabilize heart beat, alleviate anxiety and dissipate stress. What is even more remarkable is this: When ordinary people with no training of any kind practice the relaxation response once or twice a day, it brings about cognitive restructuring and rapidly alters the expression of their genes. When it comes to rejuvenating, regenerating and healing the body, these findings are nothing short of revolutionary. LIVING STRESS-FREE Herbert Benson first described the relaxation response as the physiological opposite of the stressed fight-or-flight response. Working with his team, he then went on to pioneer the application of mind/body techniques to a wide range of health issues and meditative practices. They charted the measurable physical benefits which accrue from practicing any form of meditation, including those that rely on the silent repetition of a mantra—a word-sound. Meditation using a mantra has a long tradition. Some mantras are considered “sacred words” that hold particular sound vibrations to transmit particular powers. Each spiritual tradition has its own mantras, such as Guru Om, Om mani padme hum, La ilaha illa 'lla or, in the Catholic religion, Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Whether their magic aspects are true or not, these techniques work beautifully to replace the habitual chatter that runs through one's mind, worries about things past and things yet to come. BENSON’S QUANTUM LEAP To learn a relaxation response meditative practice (which I have recorded on video so you can do it with me), Benson suggests you choose a word that is pleasing to you. It could be anything, say, “flower”, “peace”, or “love”. He likes the word “one”, as it is simple and has the connotation of unity about it. Here's how to do it: Find a quiet place where you won't be disturbed for fifteen to twenty minutes and a comfortable chair that supports your back. Sit down and close your eyes. Give yourself a moment to settle in and you are ready to begin. Simply sit there, feet on the floor and eyes closed, quietly repeating your word over and over to yourself: “one...one...one...” Whenever your mind wanders or you are disturbed by a sound or thought, simply turn your mind gently back to repeating the word again. That is all there is to it. After fifteen to twenty minutes, stop repeating the mantra and get ready to open your eyes. Open your eyes, stretch, and go about your everyday activities. This is a particularly useful technique once you have practiced it a few times because you can do it in so many different places, such as in a waiting room or on a commuter train or bus. Herbert Benson Interview: Enhancing Health Through Mind Body Healing [video type=youtube src=v=KZ7JfC3_Zgc poster=http://d3oy45cyct8ffi.cloudfront.net/health/video/wp-content/uploads/sites/3/2014/02/hgerbert-benson-INTERVIEW.jpg ]

Inhale

Inhale

Like music and meditation, aromatics can be used to alter your consciousness and deepen your awareness. Using environmental fragrances is also a delightful way of lifting your mood and sharpening your mind. A cool whiff of neroli sets your brain racing. Sniffing white rose can nestle you down into the most enjoyable indolence. Immerse yourself in the rich warmth of the ambergris and, even if you are the most timid of creatures, you can begin to feel bold and daring. Tibetan lamas mix an extraordinary combination of herbs and flowers to produce an incense which heightens concentration and centers the mind for meditation. In ancient times, temple prostitutes knew every secret of blending aromatics to create a heady aphrodisiac which was completely irresistible to their worshippers. And astrologers advised their clients which balm to use when a specific planet made particular transits in their chart. The special substances that make all this possible are the plant essences - the light, fine, almost etheric essential oils taken from roots, leaves, barks and flowers of plants in their prime of life. A plant essence plays an important role in the plant's growth to maturity, is forever changing its chemical composition in the plant, and is present in greater quantities in young plants. Many experts in the use of plant essences believe that, in some way that no one has been able to identify, these substances contain much of the life force of the plant, including the basic characteristics of its leaves and flowers that give it a unique character, smell and ability to affect human beings in specific ways. Some plants, such as jasmine and rose, require hundreds of pounds of live flowers to produce even a tiny bottle of the essence. They are very expensive. Other oils, such as cinnamon and basil, are easily extracted and inexpensive. But you should know that the 'synthetic' version of a plant essence (in spite of the fact that its main constituents have been chemically reproduced) does not have the same effect on a person. This is probably because the terpene alcohols, phenols and esters that make up these natural substances have a synergistic quality - they work together to produce an effect greater than the sum of each working on its own. Some natural therapists rely on many plant essences for their restorative and stimulating actions in treatments for skin and hair, as well as for combating cellulite. They are also important constituents in many expensive face creams and lotions. But the way in which aromatic vibrations from essential oils can be used in your environment to alter mood and mind is something quite different from their therapeutic uses, when mixed with carrier oils and spread on the skin in aromatherapy treatments. Oil of geranium, for instance, is a mild diuretic useful in aromatherapy for treating fluid retention, eczema and anxiety. But burn it as incense, or let it diffuse into your environment as a fragrance, and it can make you act with uncharacteristic rashness - an effect quite separate from its therapeutic properties. Aromatherapy is a tool for healing. Aromatics belong to the realm of magic. The best way to discover what its magic can do for you is to experiment with a few of the real essences. Start with six, and then enlarge your repertoire as you get to know the quality and characteristics of each, and as you discover those you particularly like. Because they are natural substances, and highly volatile, they rapidly diffuse into the environment. They just as rapidly disappear or can be replaced by other fragrances. When you choose essences and oils for burning, make absolutely sure that those you buy are natural. The current fascination with aromatherapy has led to the appearance of a myriad of poor quality so-called essential oils, which are nothing of the kind. They are cheap chemical analogues and are currently being sold in chemists, department stores and specialty shops all over. Trying to use them for mind-bending is a grave mistake. They can actually make you feel quite sick, not to mention the unpleasant fact that they tend to infuse into a room and then imbed themselves in the carpets, curtains and furniture with the tenacity of a cheap perfume. Only real essential oils have mind-bending magic. But what a wonderful magic that can be. Cedar heightens creativity Chamomile soothes panic and hysteria Marjoram calms irritability, soothes panic Cinnamon is a natural stimulant Frankincense calms irritability and impatience Neroli is an anti shock aid, and heightens mental functions Basil banishes fear and indecision, and is antidepressant Clary sage clears the head after mental activity Juniper improves concentration, and banishes fear Sage dispels anxiety Lily restores energy Geranium is anti-anxiety Ylang Ylang is aphrodisiac and antidepressant Lavender calms irritability, and soothes impatience Patchouli is an antidote to apathy, and is good against exhaustion Peppermint uplifts the spirit, is good against apathy, and is a mental stimulant Jasmine is an antidote to shyness Sandalwood helps new ways of thinking Rosewood calms an aggressive mind Vanilla heightens nostalgia - especially for childhood USING AROMATICS FOR MINDBENDING * Put 30 to 50 drops of essential oil or oils into a half pint size spray bottle filled with water. (The kind you use to spray plants is ideal.) Use this mixture as a room spray. * Put 8 to 10 drops of essential oils on a small piece of cardboard and place it on a warm radiator. * Put 5-10 drops of an essence on a small plate and put it on top of an aga or wood stove. * Place a few drops of essential oils on a cotton or linen handkerchief and sniff it periodically. (This is a particularly good method if you are in a public place where the air is full of cigarette smoke or the room is stuffy.) * Place 10-15 drops in water which is simmering on a hob. This will humidify the environment as well as scenting it.

Sacred Truth Ep. 45: The Zen Of Stress-Free

Sacred Truth Ep. 45: The Zen Of Stress-Free

Cats laze in the sun. The caterpillar dozes on a tomato plant. A bumblebee nestles between two blades of grass. Yet we humans seem to be continually on the run. It’s as though we have become programmed by the media, advertising, and personal growth gurus to do it better and faster, to be more efficient, to keep going no matter what. We have lost the art of stillness. As a result, we miss out on the gifts that come to us when for a time we put aside doing and let ourselves just enjoy being. “What goes up must come down.” It would be great if these words were engraved on the brain of those of us who live busy lives. When stress gets out of hand it wears you down and creates deep fatigue. When stress is prolonged, it can make you feel overwhelmed, undermine your peace of mind, and turn into adrenal exhaustion that undermines your health. Yet, when you learn how to balance with relaxation, what was once stressful can feel like the spice of your life—fun even when life makes heavy demands. You know you’ll be able to meet them and enjoy the process. You and I and every other living thing have two fundamental modes—solar and lunar. Physiologically the solar—stressed—mode is a dynamic outpouring of energy and spirit. Oriental cultures call this mode the yang rhythm. When it’s in control you feel excited, love the thrill of a challenge, and become determined to make things happen. The lunar mode, your yin rhythm, is its exact opposite. When lunar energy predominates, you move into deep relaxation, which restores and rebalances your body and mind. Instead of an outpouring of spirit and energy, you become deeply receptive—literally able to draw energy, strength, and bliss into your body and your life as a cat does lying in front of a winter fire. Few of us are taught how to ease back and forth from dynamic to receptive mode and vice versa. As a result, our bodies are seldom at peace. Our minds are always busy. We can’t let go of those endless internal monologues. Continually mulling over past and the future, we miss out on the joy of moment-to-moment awareness. We eat food but don’t really taste it. We make love then wonder why it is not always as satisfying as we know it could be. We have forgotten how to live in the moment from the core of our being and let life flow through us instead of attempting to “manage” it. In short, we have lost connection with the two rhythms on which lasting health, vitality, and joy depend. Let’s now look at the simplest and most efficient way of reconnecting with both. It’s called Zazen. A powerful technique for reestablishing life-giving balance, zazen is a simple, yet almost infinitely transformative practice. I have taught this simple practice to thousands of people who continue to sing its praises. Practiced for 10 or 15 minutes a day, it silences your endless internal chatter, releases anxiety, and stops the kind of tail chasing like an obsessive dog that gets us nowhere. It gently trains your body and mind to move at will from the dynamic, solar, stressed state into the deeply receptive, restorative lunar one, helping us to become fully present in the eternal NOW like a child, a sage, an artist, a lover. Zazen is all about a new way of breathing. The word Spirit means breath—that is, life force. In Japanese they call it ki, and in Chinese it is called chi. In English we refer to it as energy or power. It is the electrical energy that fuels the living matrix of your body. Practice zazen and you learn how closely your breath is connected with the kinds of thoughts you have and the emotions you feel. As you develop awareness of your breath, entering and leaving your body, and of all the sensations this brings, you come to touch the still point of your being. You start by sitting in a comfortable but straight back posture and silently counting your breath: Inhale... “one,” exhale... “two,” and so on up to ten. Then you begin again back at “one.” The point of the counting has nothing to do with trying to get to ten. This is just a simple tool. If you lose count and your mind begins to wander, notice this, bless your thoughts, whatever they are, then let them go and gently return your concentration to the breath and start again at “one.” Each time you choose consciously to let a thought go and bring yourself back to your breathing, you increase your ability to place your mind where you want it to be. Believe me, this is an incredibly powerful experience. Before long it will help you break free of the limiting thoughts, worries, and obsessions that can rule our lives. Your sense of connection with your innate being grows stronger, as does your capacity to experience bliss, pleasure, and the that you have the right to be who you are without having to conform to other people’s imperatives. Your spiritual power grows, as do your intuitive skills. Creativity, which is closely woven into intuition, blossoms. Ok let’s get started together: • Position Your Body: The way you hold your body—your posture—helps create your state of consciousness. There are many choices. You can sit tailor-fashion on the floor using a small firm pillow or zafu, which raises your bottom slightly off the floor. Sit on the front third of your zafu tipping your body slightly forward. This creates the strongest feeling of stability. You can also use a chair. When sitting on a chair it is also important to use a cushion so you can sit on the front third of the cushion and keep your back away from its back. Make sure your feet are flat on the floor. However you choose to sit, your back needs to be straight. Imagine that your head is pressing against the ceiling. Now allow your muscles to soften so the natural curve of the back appears and the abdomen pushes slightly forward so your diaphragm moves freely—rising and falling with each breath. • Position Your Hands: Place your hands in what is known as a cosmic mudra where your active hand (right if you are right handed and left if you are left handed) lies palm up in your lap. Nestle the other hand gently onto the palm of the active hand so that the knuckles overlap and your thumb tips just touch, forming a kind of oval. This connects your body’s right and left energy fields. It acts as a symbol for the unity of the breath, your life, and the Universe. This also helps turn you inward away from the confusion and chaos of daily life. • Grow Quiet: Allow your body to settle into a comfortable posture. Your back is erect but never stiff, your chin is tucked in slightly, and the tip of your tongue rests easily against the roof of your mouth, just behind your upper teeth. • Breathe through your nose. Lower your eyes so you are looking at the ground two or three feet in front of you. After a while you may be surprised to find that although your eyes are open, you are no longer “seeing” what you are looking at, since the focus of your attention will have shifted within. • Discover Your Center: This is the hara—the physical and spiritual center of the body. It is a place of power from which all the martial arts are performed. Located in the pelvis, two-and-a-half to three inches below the navel, it is also the center of gravity in your body. Allowing your focus of attention to rest at the hara creates a sense of balance for body and mind. As you breathe in, imagine your breath going down to the hara and returning from the hara. Of course, on a physical level the breath is really filling the lungs but you need to just imagine this, which helps you with the breathing. • Breathe Easy: Pay attention to your breath without trying to change anything. Be aware of the tactile feelings that come with breathing. Notice the cool air entering your body as you inhale through your nose and what it feels like as it travels down the back of your throat. Feel the warmth of the out-breath as you exhale. When you stay in touch with this tactile sensation of breathing, you are less likely to be distracted by thoughts. • Silently count the Ins and Outs: Inhalation is “one.” Exhalation is “two.” Inhalation is “three” and so on until you get to ten. Then start all over again. The simple agreement you make with yourself is only that when the mind begins to distract you, you notice this and consciously choose to let it go and go back to watching the breath, and begin counting again from one. • Zazen is as simple as this. Practicing it for fifteen minutes once or twice a day—preferably at the beginning of the day and the end of the day—you begin to touch the still point within you again and again. In the process you build up joriki—the power of focus and concentration so that, in time, instead of becoming caught up in the endless mental machinations that draw us away from living our lives fully whatever you are doing, you become able to choose consciously to let go and turn your mind towards whatever you choose. The connection with your innate being strengthens so that your inner world and your day-to-day life gradually come together in harmony. The more you practice the easier it becomes so, at will you are able to move into in and out of highly stressful situations that at one time would have made you frantic. In essence, the mind is meant to be like the still water of a lake at dawn. But when the rains fall or the winds blow, its natural glass-like surface, which is meant to reflect sun and moon, becomes disturbed with eddies and waves which distort your perception of your feelings, your body, and the world around you. As you practice zazen your mind returns to its mirror-like state. Then it is able to reflect the world around you without becoming obstructed or distorted by anything in it. You learn first hand that you do not have to hold on to anything to create the life you long for. You become truly free. This experience of freedom becomes contagious—a blessing not only for ourselves but for others as well. Marianne Williamson describes it well: “As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” Trying to understand or rationalize the practice of zazen is a waste of time. Like every genuinely transformative practice, it can never be fully understood. Zazen can only be lived.

Look Inside

Look Inside

The mind's depths are rarely plumbed in everyday life. In fact scientists estimate that we usually use only a mere 10% of our total mental capacity - an unfortunate loss of potential. By expanding our consciousness and awareness and setting the power of imagination in motion we can learn to draw upon the remaining reserves and use them to create and actualize our goals and dreams. The process is known as creative visualization or conscious dreaming. It is based on the principle that in everything we do a thought or an image always precedes an action. For example, the thought, "I will go and make dinner." or "I am hungry." results in the meal. By using this principle we can program our minds with positive and creative thoughts and images to bring about rewarding results. This is something which we have both worked with for a very long time. That the mind is capable of influencing our lives and the world in which we live is only beginning to be appreciated. At clinics throughout the world doctors are starting to acknowledge the role of creative visualization in the seemingly miraculous 'spontaneous remission' of terminal patients. Patients are being taught to visualize their immune systems sending out white blood cells in armies to destroy malignant cells. Whatever particular image works best for the person is encouraged. They may see their white blood cells as little men in work clothes clearing away a tumor VricBor visualize them as sharks attacking and engulfing the cancerous cells. The specific image is unimportant as long as it is vivid and meaningful to the patient. The medical profession also acknowledges the power of the mind in the use of placebos. A placebo is an inert substance or procedure which is presented to the patient as a powerful therapeutic drug or technique and which often leads to a dramatic recovery from a serious physical illness. An American physician studying women in early stages of pregnancy who were complaining of morning sickness and stomach contractions, offered one woman a 'drug' which he said would soothe her discomfort and alleviate her nausea. Within minutes the woman felt better. In fact, the doctor had actually given her a powerful emetic - a substance designed to induce vomiting in someone who has swallowed a harmful substance. Because the woman had faith in her doctor, this fact overcame her nausea and reversed the effect of the drug. Such are the powers of the mind. Conscious dreaming is a way of beginning to tap the powers of your mind in order to take control over your life and accept responsibility for what comes to you. It is done in a state of deep relaxation in which we are able to let go of the tensions, worries and doubts that normally plague us, and contact our deeper self. You can use conscious dreaming to improve all areas of your life, for instance to give you more confidence and a better self image, to improve your performance at work or in athletics, to intensify your healing abilities, to increase your creativity so that you express your talents with greater ease - to even gain insights into problems that vex you. It works on the principle that your subconscious does not draw a distinction between an actual experience and a vivid mental image so that your dreams can take on the weight of reality and eventually become part of your conscious life. And because thought and intention precede physical reality, when you ask your imagination to alter your expectations, you can actually improve that reality. journey to the center To begin the journey of self discovery and transformation you need to relax deeply. Our favorite relaxation exercise was taught to us by a friend Angela Farmer, a talented and dedicated teacher of yoga. It focuses on the breath to still the mind and body and is called total breath. Here's how: total breath technique: This complete exercise can be difficult to learn at first. We suggest you have someone read it slowly as you do it. Or read it through several times and then memorize the key words. You needn't remember all the images, but you may find one or two stick out in your mind. Begin by lying down on a carpet or blanket on the floor. The firm surface of the floor is better than a bed because it allows your muscles to relax more deeply against it. Make sure you are warm enough - cover yourself with a blanket if necessary. Place a rolled up towel or small blanket or book under your neck and head. (The size will depend upon the curvature of your neck.) Your head should be supported and your chin parallel to the floor. Take the phone off the hook and make sure no one disturbs you. Lying on your back bend your knees up and place your feet hip width apart comfortably near your buttocks. Bend your elbows and rest your - palms on your abdomen. Bring your awareness to the contact of your body with the ground. Notice where you touch the floor. Let yourself give up your entire weight to the floor so that you sink into it. Imagine the earth embracing you from behind. Let the breath flow through your body like water, gently easing away any tension in the joints and muscles. Once you have eased your back muscles on the floor your spine will naturally lengthen out. Help this lengthening by putting your hands gently behind your head and easing your head and neck out. (You may have to readjust your head rest.) Instead of breathing, release your back to create a space and then wait for the breath to enter. This waiting is very important. It eliminates the sense of trying and doing which fills our lives every day. Trust that your breath will enter automatically. You need make no effort to breathe. As the breath enters feel it rippling through the layers of muscles in your back and have the sense of "It breathes me". Bring your awareness to the where your legs attach to your pelvis and try to let go of any holding in your hips and pelvis. Don't try to move your legs, but imagine your knees being pulled gently up and away on a diagonal. Consider the possibility of your legs floating away from your pelvis. Now feel the weight of your pelvis against the floor. Imagine it as a hollow basin and let your belly and inner organs melt back into it. Feel the bony part of the pelvis (the sacrum) spreading out on the floor as the breath comes in. As the breath leaves the whole spine lengthens out and the back relaxes further back into the floor. Work slowly up the spine in this way, taking your awareness to the waist or lumbar area then to the lower, middle and upper chest - all the time checking that it is not you breathing, but you waiting, releasing, watching as the breath enters and leaves your body. Observe as more and more layers of muscles give up their tensions. When the breath enters the back of your rib cage, remember that your ribs are only connected to the spine by cartilage and can expand to the sides to create more space for the breath. Notice any hardness and holding in the front ribs and chest and allow them to soften. The front of the body can sink back and be received by the back of the body. Bring your attention to the shoulders and top chest. For most of us a lot of worry, stress and fear are held here. See if you can gently soften in these areas, allowing the sternum (breast bone) to drop down and melt. Let your shoulders gradually sink down towards the floor. Imagine in the center of your chest going through to the back between your shoulder blades and from this point see if you can allow the shoulders to drift apart. The shoulder blades can slide away from each other on the floor with the inhalation and rest separated on the outbreath. Let go of any tension in your throat and neck and allow your head to float away from the rest of your body. Let your hair flow away from your head. Imagine your eyes as two pebbles dropping backwards into a pool of water. Let the skin of your face become heavy and flow sideways and down towards your ears. Become aware of your body as a whole. Feel the gentle ebbing and flowing of the breath throughout you. Now is the time to begin conscious dreaming. Once you have reached this state of deep relaxation it is time to begin conscious dreaming. Explore a sanctuary within your mind to which you can return each time you do the conscious dreaming. Imagine yourself in a beautiful place. It may be a place from your past or entirely imaginary. Let yourself feel safe and at peace. Now evoke your dream. Picture your ideal self. If you want to lose weight for instance, see yourself slim and happy going about your everyday affairs. Try to see yourself as vividly as possible. Imagine other people you know responding positively to the ideal you. If you want to kick a bad habit such as smoking see yourself in a situation where you would normally smoke, such as after a meal and picture yourself quite happily foregoing the cigarette. If you are sick imagine yourself well again and doing your favorite things. If you have a problem, for example with a relationship that is not going well or you need to make an important decision, quietly ask your inner self for advice. By taking the time to listen to your higher wisdom you'll be surprised at how easily problems are resolved. Successful conscious dreaming comes in both an active and a passive mode. You can create images and ideals for yourself actively or you can take a receptive stance and allow images and thoughts to arise on their own accord. Both are important and can lead to valuable insights. At the end of each conscious dreaming session conclude by saying to yourself, "This or something better now happens to me for the total good of all concerned." This phrase allows the possibility of the higher wisdom to work through your dreams. You can return to the conscious dream images throughout the day. By beginning to contact your inner self in this way you will find that it becomes usefully integrated into (your everyday life. Gradually open your eyes and for a few seconds look around you. Then slowly roll over onto one side and gently get up.

The Sound Of Silence

The Sound Of Silence

Silence. Solitude. These words strike fear into the post-modern heart. We forget the power of escaping for a time into sanctuary, of listening to our breath, the sound of the wind in the trees, or the heartbeat of the earth. There are too many phone calls to be made, meetings to attend, children’s noses to wipe, newspapers to read. Yet solitude has much to teach us. NEW WORLDS AWAIT It takes courage to become a learner again. It asks that you trust enough in life to drop for a time all you know (or think you know) and retreat for a day, a week, even only half an hour just to be—quietly receptive to whatever arises from within or around you: the intense blue of a tiny flower which sears your senses burning away every concern for daily life; a wild thought—and where did that come from? The fragrance of cinnamon sprinkled on a bowl of homemade yogurt. Such things go unnoticed unless we spend enough time alone to experience them. The word “alone” was once treated as two words: all one. To be all one meant to be wholly oneself—all of one piece. This is the great gift of sanctuary. Practiced daily, silence and solitude heal confusion and mend the frazzled nerves that riddle modern life. Getting away from it all to sit on a rock or at a window and gaze at the sky, or look into the dance of our own mind, helps you come home to yourself. It allows the magnificent wildness of your intrinsic being to converse with your rational side. HEAR THE CALL FROM WITHIN Take a dozen steps into the solemn silence of a rainforest or simply of your own body. As you enter this mysterious twilight, you are immersed in past and future. You become part of a primeval world where all life feeds upon itself in a perfect balance of dark accord. You can watch as the whole history of creation is being played out before you, around you, beneath you and you feel part of it. Here, the profusion of plants, insects, fungi, and the bacteria they contain is wild power in its most concentrated form. Our rainforests are the main repository of the earth's gene pool. They are a source of almost infinitely rich morphic fields which have evolved over billions of years. They are also the most important natural resource we have. Wild virgin land carries a spiritual power which makes not only the human soul but the soul of plants and animals, rocks and mountains sing. Rainforests offer the living organisms of our planet a high degree of primordial life energy necessary for the perpetuation of their life. So it is within your own body. You not only live in the universe. You are the universe—the rainforest, the stars and the moon, the seas and the rocks and the sky. They are not only outside of you; they are within each one of us. This is a secret which few have as yet discovered. For we humans have, literally for eons, been trained to think of ourselves as less than what in truth we are—holders of immense creativity and compassion—able to do whatever we long to do at the deepest levels of our being. DISCOVERY BEGINS HERE I am asking you to put aside ten minutes of every day in which you enter the sanctuary of your own being to sit or walk in silence. Let yourself to become aware of how silence acts upon you. Is this something you are comfortable with, or something you try to avoid? Can you sense that there is a richness here that you have not yet tapped? The magnificence and the wonder of the rainforest lies not only in its beauty, but in the ordered splendor of its wildness. It is a wildness which you can palpably feel as you walk beneath its dark canopy of life. Making my way amidst the tangled vines which drip with moisture in this living sea of a thousand shades of green has always filled me with wonder, and made me realize just how far we have moved away from experiencing our own wildness in our urbanized, self-centered, mechanistic 21st century world. It makes me conscious of how desperately we need to reconnect with the creativity, power and wildness in ourselves, learn to trust it and live our lives from our own unique individual truths. INTENTION AND REALIZATION Energy always follows your intention. In shamanic practices most often we use a drum or a rattle to expand consciousness. I love the sound of the drum and the rattle yet I often journey into expanded realms by way of silence alone. I love simply focusing my intention, on whatever purpose I have chosen to follow, then allowing it to unfold, without having to rely on anything external. I believe it’s important that each of us develops this skill—otherwise we can end up like Dumbo when his friend the mouse gave him a feather to hold in his trunk as a talisman to make him believe that he could fly. The little floppy-eared elephant was under the mistaken belief that it was the feather that held the power to fly, when truly it lay within himself. The feather was only a reminder of this. And it was only when he accidentally dropped it that he discovered the truth. This is what you too will be discovering as you journey into the sacred silence. It takes a little practice, but the practice itself is fascinating, and there is no right or wrong way to go about it. It is all a question of living in the moment and allowing yourself to become aware of what is happening within and around you. HERE’S HOW Sit or lie comfortably, watching your breath go in and out of your body. Become aware of the way your breath moves. Is it cooler as you feel it come in through your nose? Warmer when it is exhaled? Now become conscious of your body. Allow any muscle tension simply to sink into the floor beneath you so that you feel deeply connected with the earth. Whenever you are ready, state your intention for your journey into expanded awareness. It might be to restore your energy, to discover more about the nature of reality, to awaken your creative power, connect with the world of nature, or any other desire you have just now. · You do all this silently. Now gently repeat your intention again and again, until you begin to sense a shift away from your thinking mind into your feeling heart. This can take you to a place of absolute stillness. Let yourself to go deep, deep, deeper within. Allow yourself to follow all the way back through time. Let yourself experience your connectedness with the wild evolutionary power that burst forth at the birth of the universe, if you will. This power is your power. You are the universe, just as the universe is you. What does it feel like? Exciting? Wonderful? Crazy? Wild? It is all these things as you are. Then, when you are ready, let yourself come back into ordinary reality, and record what you have experienced. When recording your journey into the sound of silence, put pen to paper and simply write about your experience, whatever it has been, for at least 15 minutes. Let the words flow without ever picking up the pen from the paper. This practice creates a flow that allows you not to edit what has arisen from the deepest layers of your being. When you are ready, give thanks to the universe for what it is, and to yourself for being everything you are. The more you practice this little exercise, the more you can come to know the truth of your own being and the richer your life can become. Do share with me your own experience entering the sound of silence practice if you’d like. I’d love to hear from you about it.

Walk Through New Worlds

Walk Through New Worlds

Who would have thought that taking the right kind of walk can not only clear stress, and energize mind and body but even bring you face to face with satori? Satori brings a sense of living in the fullness of your being, moment by moment. So often, we think we need to make decisions about what we are going to do in the next hour, the next day, the next year. We worry about how to discipline our bodies, get the work done and pay the bills, as well as a thousand other things.You can find yourself walking in new ways, with different rhythms. Aches and pains diminish. You sense a new relationships developing—to yourself, your surroundings and the world as a whole. I am passionate about taking two quite different kinds of walks which I’m keen to share with you because they have brought me much pleasure as well as so many other benefits. They are, each in their own way a lot of fun to. FREE FLOW Once a day, regardless of the weather outside, and whenever it suits you, go out walking for the sheer pleasure of doing it. It can be fun to walk in sunshine, but just as wonderful to walk in rain—unhurried and unburdened by the need to ‘look good’. Look around, smell the air, notice the way your body has begun to move. The next step is likely to sound weird, but try it: When you see a tree, say silently to yourself, ‘Tree.’ When you see a flower—‘Flower.’ This simple naming practice helps you become aware of where you are in space and time. And it does this in a wonderful, spontaneous, improvizing way. As you walk, life takes on an unexpected, exciting feel. Meanwhile, futile internal monologues begin to fade away. One of my favorite books was written by a musician named Stephen Nachmanovitch. It is called Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art. It’s a superb book. If you are interested in creativity on any level—and I don’t mean just being an artist, but any and all kinds of creativity—I highly recommend it. In a chapter called ‘Inspiration and Time Flow’, Nachmanovitch describes this first way of walking I want to pass on to you. (Of course, you are probably unlikely to be walking down a street in a foreign city as he describes, but much of what he writes about this way of walking is relevant no matter where you are.) It reminds us all that it is not impossible to live our lives moment to moment, fully present with real awareness and joy. Here is what Nachmanovitch writes: A walk, following your intuitive promptings down the streets of a foreign city, holds rewards far beyond a planned tour of the tried and tested. Such a walk is totally different from random drifting. Leaving your eyes and ears wide open, you allow your likes and dislikes, your conscious and unconscious desires and irritations, your irrational hunches to guide you whenever there is a choice of turning right or left. You cut a path through a city that’s yours alone. This brings you face to face with surprises that are destined for you alone. You might discover conversations and friendships, meetings with remarkable people. When you travel in this way, when you walk in this way, you are free. There are no ‘have tos’ and ‘shoulds’. You are structured at first only by the date of the plane departure. As the pattern of people and places unfolds, the trip, like an improvised piece of music, reveals its own inner structure and rhythm. Thus do you set the stage for fateful encounters. I’ve got to add here that some of the most important ‘fateful encounters’ he speaks of are likely to be brand new encounters with yourself, in ways you may never have dreamed of. INSTANT ENERGY IS YOURS This is the second of my favorite walks. It’s a way not only of relieving stress, but of energizing yourself, learning to be present in the moment and, like Nachmanovitch’s walk, releasing your mind from the habitual chatter that prevents our feeling fully alive. I learned this technique from a Belleruth Naparstek’s “Meditations to Relieve Stress” audio. Here’s how it goes: Choose a place where you will be able to walk without meeting a lot of people, so you allow yourself to connect with your surroundings the way a child might. You don’t have to smile or relate to anyone. Instead, you will be drawing in energy from your surroundings. What will amaze you is just how much vitality you can absorb from your environment when you are not wasting your own energy with meaningless social contact. So, just for 10 to 15 minutes, let yourself retreat inwards and see what amazing things happen. GETTING EARTHED Begin your walk by shaking out your body a little. Feel the earth beneath your feet. Take a deep breath and let it out with no effort. Now look around you, at the sky, the earth, the trees, grass, rocks or flowers—whatever you find around you. Take another slow, even breath deep down into your abdomen. Now, aware of your breath going steadily in and out, start walking at a comfortable pace, opening all your senses to your environment as if it were part of you. Let yourself enjoy the light, the mist, the colors, the rocks and sand; whatever is there. Let yourself become aware of the way things move in light and shade, so you are in effect feeding on the richness of your surroundings. Let your body move easily and gently, so it feels as though it is dancing with your surroundings. Allow yourself to experience everything you see and feel, smell and touch, as though you are doing it for the first time, with the curious mind of a child. Feel the air on your skin, smell the fragrance around you in all its layers and textures as you walk. Continue to be aware of the ground beneath your feet, and how your breath going in and out feels. Notice how well the earth supports you. Enjoy the feel of your body in motion. See how heightened your senses become to the colors and the fragrances. Notice how clear your vision has become. This simple focus, this increased awareness of the sound of your own feet on the ground, the feel of your breath, the movement of your legs and torso will become more acute, more intense, more nourishing and more satisfying. LIKE MAGIC Colors become more and more intense, richer, clearer. You can find your senses opening as you become ever more aware of everything around you. You may even sense that you are immersed in a wonderful new ocean of reality. That the trees and the rocks, the air you breathe, and the sky have become part of you and you of them. Indulge yourself. Smell the air, feel the ground, immerse yourself in the sea of life and generosity in which you find yourself. Now, simply draw the energy of the earth into you. Let it fill you up. Breathe in the beauty of the sky. Take in every sight and sound, deep into your heart, as you become aware that you are attuned to everything around you. This energy is available to you whenever you want it. All it depends on is your own willingness to connect with the sea of life of which you are a part. Whenever you do, the whole world feeds you, belongs to you, nourishes you at every level. Continue to walk as long as you like, easily and blissfully, aware of your feet on the ground, your breath moving in and out, and the part you play in this wonderful sea of reality which belongs to you, and you to it. BACK TO SOURCE Both of these walking techniques are wonderful. Don’t just read about them—print up these descriptions and carry them with you. Then have a go. See what happens to you. Even better, take a look at where I learned about them. Stephen Nachmanovitch’s book is the best book on creativity I have ever read. I have read it at least 12 times. (As a present for Aaron who loves listening to audio books, I even made a recording of most of the chapters and gave it to him.) When it comes to Belleruth Naparstek’s work, her recordings are unparalleled in the world for their transformative power. You can purchase the one below on CD. Better still, just download it and put it on an MP3 player so you can begin using it today. You can find them below: Free Play - Stephen Nachmanovitch’s Improvisation In Life And Art - Stephen Nachmanovitch’s book is the best book on creativity I have ever read. I have read it at least 12 times. To find out more click on the links below. Order Free Play - Stephen Nachmanovitch’s from Amazon MEDITATIONS TO RELIEVE STRESS imagery for mastering anxiety; guided imagery to pump up feelings of love, safety and protection; a soothing, walking meditation for the fidgeters among us who can’t sit still; and affirmations for use anytime. (72 min.) Order Meditations To Relieve Stress at iTunes Order Meditations To Relieve Stress at Amazon

A Benevolent Bath

A Benevolent Bath

Allow an hour for the whole process of taking a delicious treat of a bath from beginning to end. Make sure you have everything you need - towel, loofa or hemp glove, and another towel to use as a headrest. Add essential oils to the water as the bath is filling, using about ten to fifteen drops total of either a single essence or of a mixture for a large bath. Each essence has a different effect on the mind and body (see below).  When you get into the bath, gently scrub yourself all over with a hemp glove or a loofa. Then just relax and soak for a few minutes, letting the heat penetrate your muscles.  Keep a cool cloth nearby to smooth over your face when needed. Let the essential oils work their wonders while you carry out a relaxing and waste-eliminating self-massage.  Water is the perfect medium for self-massage. The heat (remember not to have your bath too hot and stimulating) of the water works silent wonders, and it supports your body so that you have easy access to feet, legs, arms and torso while still remaining relaxed. When your bath is finished, lie down for ten minutes with an eye mask or a piece of dark fabric across your eyes and keep warm. the massage message Self-massage is nothing more than stroking, kneading, pushing and pressing your skin and muscles. Start with your feet. Grasp one foot between thumb and fingers and press in between the tendons, gently at first, then harder and harder, moving from the toes up towards the ankle. Then, using your fingertips and knuckles, go over the soles of your feet. Wherever you find a sore spot, work harder until you feel the discomfort melt beneath your hand. Now do your heel, grasping it between thumb and fingers and working around the area of the Achilles tendon. This is also a good time to make circles with your foot to loosen the ankle joint. Repeat this with the other foot, and then go on to your legs. Lift each leg in turn and deeply stroke the flesh on the back, from the ankle up to the knee. Then go back to the ankle again and repeat the same motions on the side and front of the calf. Keep working and, as you massage a little deeper with each stroke, you will gradually find that any tautness softens. Now go over your thighs with the same movement, and afterwards knead and squeeze around the knee area wherever there are trouble spots, just as you did on the feet. Now knead each thigh and hip. Then go on to your arms. Knead and squeeze every spot you can reach on your shoulders and neck, looking for sore spots and focusing on the areas between joints and muscles. Pay particular attention to the tops of shoulders, where most of us lock away our tension. Grasp this area in your thumb and fingers and insistently ease away any hardness you find there. Finally, go over your ribs, doing each side with its opposite hand. essence alchemy As part of the benevolent bath, choose essential oils not so much for what they can do for your skin as what they can do to expand your consciousness and lift your spirit. Whatever your mental state may be, it has an enchanting antidote from the world of flowers: Negative State Essential Oil Remedy anger: ylang ylang, rose, chamomile resentment: rose sadness: hyssop, marjoram, sandalwood mental fatigue: basil, peppermint, cypress, patchouli worry: lavender feeling jaded: neroli, melissa, camphor feelings of weakness: chamomile, jasmine, melissa irritability: frankincense, marjoram, lavender, chamomile physical exhaustion: jasmine, rosemary, juniper, patchouli anxiety: sage, juniper, basil, jasmine

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