Moksha | मोक्ष

Moksha is the concept of emancipation, liberation, and release from the cycle of Samsara or repeated rebirth. Mukti, vimosha, and vimukti are all interchangeable words that mean emancipation, freedom, self-knowledge, and self-realization. In the Upanishads, it refers to this release with the same word used to release horses from their carriage, but each school of yoga describes a different origin of Moksha and method for achieving it.

Moksha is a word that is similar to Nirvana, but Nirvana tends to be a buddhist concept while Moksha is Hindu; Nirvana means “blown-out” or perfect stillness of the mind. However, in both religions, this is a release from the endless cycles of samsara or the infinite cycles of rebirth. Samsara is seen as a cycle of suffering, pain, injury, death, and bondage, so release from this is the ultimate goal of an individual’s life, in combination with the four other purusarthas, or objective human pursuits. There are two different schools of thought as to how Moksha is obtained: on earth (Jiva Mukti), as an ultimate destiny, or only through concrete, ethical actions in the world. Moksha is a transformation of knowledge that allows an individual to see beyond the fog of ignorance.

The state itself is described as a oneness with Brahman, or the universal god energy that fuels the universe bringing absolute peace, bliss, and a state of knowledge. One of the written ways of achieving this is through meditating on Brahman, or universal “god” at the core of the being that is liberated. In essence, Moksha is liberation into the core essence of the energy of the universe, while relinquishing the sufferings of consciousness.

Jivan muktis, or self-realized humans are said to have the following attributes in the Upanishads (keep in mind these are guidelines and in the tradition, there have been many jivan muktis):

  • not bothered by disrespect and endures cruel words, treats others with respect regardless of how others treat him;
  • when confronted by an angry person does not return anger, instead replies with soft and kind words;
  • even if tortured, speaks and trusts the truth;
  • does not crave for blessings or expect praise from others;
  • never injures or harms any life or being (ahimsa), is intent in the welfare of all beings;[87]
  • is as comfortable being alone as in the presence of others;
  • is as comfortable with a bowl, at the foot of a tree in tattered robe without help, as when in a mithuna (union of mendicants), grama (village) and nagara (city);
  • doesn’t care about or wear sikha (tuft of hair on the back of head for religious reasons), nor the holy thread across the body. To the Jivan Mukti knowledge is sikha, knowledge is the holy thread, knowledge alone is supreme. Outer appearances and rituals do not matter, only knowledge matters;
  • there is no invocation nor dismissal of deities, no mantra nor non-mantra, no prostrations nor worship of gods, goddess or ancestors, nothing other than knowledge of Self;
  • humble, high-spirited, of clear and steady mind, straightforward, compassionate, patient, indifferent, courageous, speaks firmly and with sweet words.

So you can see that there is an idea of what a Jivan Mukti is supposed to be: a teacher, a sage, a mentor, a guide on the path of Dharma.The Jivan Mukti is not only a friend for everyone, the Mukti strives for the liberation of all beings. The Mukti no longer lives for their self, but for others.

 

 

The Respiratory System

Anatomy of Lungs and Respiration

Get ready to be blown away by something you have done every moment of your conscious life. Humans have two lungs and five lobes, two on the left and three on the right (the right is bigger), each of which can be from 70-100 square meters in surface area, about the same surface area as a tennis court. The lungs have 2,400 kilometers of airways and 300 to 500 million alveoli which are gas exchange points for the bloodstream. These are powerful organs of exchange with the environment, with power and functioning that should not be taken for granted.

The respiratory system is a series of organs responsible for intaking oxygen from the atmosphere and expelling carbon dioxide back into the air. This basic gas exchange between the body and the atmosphere is completely dependent upon the respiratory system and almost every vertebrate animal has one. This exchange affects every other system, as they oxygenation of blood is necessary in every organ. The nervous system also seems to draw energy from the respiratory system, and the cardiovascular system takes cues from the respiratory system (both cue off brain activity) to determine how much blood it should be pumping based on breath rate. When the sympathetic nervous system becomes active (the flight or fight mechanism), heart rate is increased, respiratory rate is increased, the sensitivity of the nervous system is heightened to allow for survival, but this comes at a cost.

Yoga focuses primarily on the respiratory system’s functioning to move the muscular-skeletal system in the opposite way. In our modern world full of non-environmental stress and high levels of adrenaline in non-life threatening situations, the sympathetic nervous system is overactive and is probably the biggest contributor to the high fatality rates from cardiovascular disease (nutrition would be the other competing contributor). The respiratory system is vital to the functioning of every mammal on the planet and is one of the most intricate and powerful tools for surviving, prospering, and thriving on planet Earth.

I honestly think the vast majority of people take breathing for granted. Most Americans are in such a rush that they don’t even notice their superpower of consciousness. We don’t learn about breathing in school, or in early sports, which is really a shame because breathing concentration allow for intense amounts of focus. Every athlete should learn breath control techniques from young ages; I can remember when I learned to run with proper form at 15 and I think that learning about breathing should happen even younger. This is what keeps us all alive, after all, and we really should learn how to keep our nervous systems functioning optimally through breathing exercises.

To really understand how intricately related the nervous system and respiratory systems are, we need to go back in time to when you were born. At birth, a babies lungs are full of fluid, but once the child is released from the birth canal, the central nervous system trigger a huge change in reaction to the environment, which then triggers the first breath, about 10 seconds later. From there, the lungs develop rapidly until at about 2, the alveoli are fully developed, then the lungs begin to grow normally until full adult muscular maturity is reached. The lungs are muscular and most mammals use their musculoskeletal systems to support their breathing, as humans do. This is why yoga can alleviate many hampering disabilities having to do with lung functioning, because strengthening the accessory muscles to the diaphragm strengthens the overall functionality of the respiratory system.

The muscles of the respiratory system are the following:
  • the diaphragm (primary)
  • the external intercostals
  • the internal intercostals (intercostals interlace on the inside and outside of the ribs).
The accessory muscles are:

As you can see, there are a tremendous amount of accessory muscles involved in breathing. I interpret this a particular way, that there is an enormous spectrum between thriving and breathing with ease and freedom contrasted to breathing for survival, or breathing only with the diaphragm and ribs, which puts extreme amounts of stress on those muscles. I think the idea of balance between the primary and accessory muscles is the right idea, and the stronger the accessory muscles, the more powerful breathing will follow. This takes time, muscles build strength in increments, and this is probably the biggest reason why yoga is so difficult for many Americans. Because we need it the most!

What kinds of breathing exercises do you practice for optimal health? What kinds of breathing exercises would you like to learn about?

 

 

Learning to Slow Down

Sunset

Yoga is an extraordinarily powerful tool. Especially for someone with a hyperactive mind.

When I was 6 I was diagnosed with ADD and given a prescription for Ritalin. I was a little troublemaker with a big imagination; a dangerous combination for any parents. At six I was recommended by my first grade teacher to see a neurologist to examine my behavior and cognition; he had me play with blocks, asked me to touch my nose and keep track of both of my fingers at the same time. Some general cognitive tests. He thought medication would be best considering that it was not a severe case, but fit perfectly into the symptoms of ADD. Plus I struggled with behavior in school.

I took a pill each morning that had positive effects on my behavior for the classroom environment. It made me focus on learning rather than allowing my attention to wander and continually distract other people while they worked, which it often still does. My learning wasn’t affected, but everyone else’s learning. Over the next few years, it became obvious that I was a very disruptive student and did not do well with rules, organization, or authority. Especially unwarranted authority or meaningless rules. I still don’t like any of those things. My mind simply functions at a higher level and processes faster and more creatively with disorganization. Over time, I have come to view this as a creative attribute rather than a defect or disorder.

In high school I began questioning my need to take a pill in the morning. What made me so different from anyone else? My sophomore year I stopped taking it so much. In the summer between my sophomore and junior year I took summer school to get ahead. During summer school my parents and I did some behavioral analysis with one of the teachers; he was a pretty awesome teacher. He noticed significant shifts in my behaviors based on whether I had taken medication or not and would fill out evaluations throughout the days. It was obvious that the medication helped in school. This solidified my need for the medication for the remainder of high school, though now I was in charge. We upped the dosage because I had been taking the same pill since 1st grade and changed drugs to Conserta, a new time release formula that supposedly had superior release mechanisms.

Conserta was awful. Junior year of high school was probably one of the most depressing times in my life. The come-downs were extremely saddening and dark; some of the worst feelings that I have ever felt were on that drug. We tried again with Adderoll and that worked better, though nothing ever seemed as smooth as the Ritalin. I now attribute this to an increased awareness as a result of trying the different drugs, rather than the drugs themselves or Ritalin being superior to the others. This time was definitely an intense time of self-discovery and learning about myself, not to mention the fact that I was 17. It was a rough year; I sprained my ankle badly to take me out of rugby and my social life struggled due to the depressions of the drugs.

Senior year was much smoother; I learned to regulate the new drug, Adderoll. I had a phenomenal second semester of my senior year, in sports, socially, and in the classroom. I got a 3.8, scored in the national rugby championship to come in second in the nation, and developed friendships that remain strong today. Then college happened.

I left Sacramento for the unknown of Spokane, Washington in the eastern portion of the state. I isolated myself at Gonzaga, a Jesuit school. I still have the utmost confidence in the Jesuit education system; those priests are some of the smartest, most spiritual people on the planet. My high school had about 20 of them, but I didn’t meet too many in college, likely due to my aversion to church.

I struggled at first; I was alone when I had such close friends from high school and took plenty of classes off to hang out with new people. But school was ridiculously easy after the great education of Jesuit High and I didn’t have to try too hard. The rugby team was easy-going and kind of competitive; a complete opposition to my high school experience. Adderoll became less a part of my life than ever before.

Freshman year passed without much incident. Sophomore was much of the same, until the second semester when I started taking the core classes for my business major and realized that the business education was not for me. The teachers taught directly from text books and had a few tests a semester; which in my personal opinion becomes useless and forgotten information. I can learn from a text-book by myself; at least I thought this until I didn’t study at all. My grades were awful and my motivation even worse. Then I switched majors.

I had planned to do an international business so that I could travel and see the world all while making millions. It became pretty apparent that this course of study would not work, so I changed to French, which I had planned to minor in. This allowed me to spend one year in Paris, rather than the 5 months of a single semester that my business major would have allowed. My grades in French were not great and the teachers were hesitant to send me over; if I was struggling at Gonzaga, surely I would struggle in Paris. I probably would have if I wasn’t exposed to yoga.

My first days home were a bit boring, but my mom asked one day if I wanted to try yoga; which I had never really heard of and figured it might be a good workout. I took one class with Scott Emerich at East Wind in Roseville and got hooked. That summer, I took classes from Destiny and Ryan and a passion grew inside of me. Meditation, especially physical mediation, was unlike anything I had ever done before. I loved it and that summer did yoga every day. I knew I was leaving the country, but had become so hooked on my practice that I wanted to keep going while I was there. Ryan, who I am eternally grateful to, gave me a few yoga books like the Gita, and recorded classes from Rusty Wells and Bryan Kest.

I took my mat over to Paris and loved every second of France. My best friend in the whole world, Kevin Taya, was there and I hadn’t seen him in a couple of years. Kevin first visited my family as a foreign exchange student when we were sixteen and we were best friends ever since. His family became a second family to me and I spent Christmas, New Year’s, my birthday, and a few other holidays in his quaint and beautiful house in Nandy, about 45 minutes via RER (the public train system) Southeast of Paris.

My first semester, I got a 4.0. I worked hard to learn the language and immerse myself in the culture; it became apparent when my oral French skills improved so dramatically that I got compliments constantly from my teachers when I returned home when I had been previously critiqued (and rightfully so). I got a membership at Bikram Paris for a few months and did my first juice cleanse. I adjusted magnificently to the challenge of a new country, language, culture, and history; I also loved being an American around people from all over the world. But nothing is as expansive for the imagination as a new language in a new city, in my personal opinion.

I think of that year in Paris as the year that I learned who I was, or at least who I have the potential to be. Meditation changed my life, yoga was something I did to equilibriate my body physically and I could tell that the mental benefits were enormous. I did my practice most days. I had even gotten a new drug, Focalin, which was my favorite of all the drugs I had taken so far; the come-down was lighter than Adderoll and the “up” was not as intense. I probably used it a total of 5 times in France; I honestly forgot about it.

All things set aside, I no longer take medication. At all. Yoga taught me that going fast has its consequences; eventually the body will catch up with the mind. I have always been a speed demon in skiing, running, learning, reading, you name it I’ve tried to go fast doing it. Yoga taught me the joys of going slow, of actually enjoying the moments as they come and go instead of always rushing to the next thing. Being in a rush is not how you want to live! Because truthfully, life is happening all around you all the time; when you are solely focused on only one things its easy to miss what is happening around you.

Now I think that I am learning to slow down even more; to allow my mind to fluctuate rather than reacting to sensations or feelings. Now I am be able to observe these peaks and valleys as they happen. This is especially important in emotional intelligence; to sift through situations with intuition and mindfulness rather than bulldozing others to get what you want (something I have done my whole life) or by forcing your own agenda on the situation. Slowing down allows you to actually enjoy the things that you cultivate and create in your life, rather than just moving on to what’s next. Take a deep breath and enjoy the flow; it will only happen once.

Carpe Diem is a concept that I think fits in well here, but lets tweak it a bit to Carpe Omnia. Seize every moment of your limited time.