Yin Yoga Meditation

ashtanga workshop w/ Elliot cover

A Unique Approach to Meditation

Meditation is one of my favorite things. Yoga, sitting cross-legged while doing various mental exercises, running, teaching yoga, and performing other focused exercises are examples of what I define as meditation. Anything where there is focus and concentration.

Yin yoga has become more and more prevalent in my own practice, as I have seen it grow in popularity in general over the past few years. I prefer ashtanga for a more regular practice, but Yin offers an excellent counterbalance to the strenuous application of the four ashtanga series. And best of all its all online for free at Yinyoga.com from a guy named Bernie Clark. It’s a really cool website and you should explore it if you want slow deep ligament and tendon focused stretching.

The Balancing of Yin and Yang

Yin yoga is not a complete package, however, as no system of yoga or even physical condition can really provide this. If too much time is spent lengthening, softening, and stretching the muscles then they will be easily strained when performing physically demanding tasks. There needs to be a balance between the soft stretching of yin and the more active stretching of yang yoga like Iyengar, Hatha yoga, or Ashtanga and other more active physical activities. Even more engaged, active physical activities like running, circuit training, even weightlifting can be combined with a yoga practice to extraordinary gain.

The Benefits of Yin Yoga

Because the benefits of yoga are extraordinary. Yin yoga, in particular, has a myriad of physical benefits for the body, not to mention the mental and psychological benefits for the mind. The benefits of yin yoga are a bit different from those of the yang styles, but in a way that is completely complimentary.

Science has shown that Yin yoga has the following benefits:

  • Myofascial releases of tension resulted in increased healing processes
  • Improved immune response
  • Increased metabolism and serotonin levels (happiness neurotransmitter)
  • Improves sleep performance
  • Improves circulation around joints which can alleviate arthritis, osteoporosis and chronic pain
  • Stress reduction
  • Anxiety reduction
  • Depression reduction

As you can see, Yin yoga boasts quite a few benefits, though some people have a hard time starting the practice. It can be difficult at first to breath properly for the duration of a long-held stretch and it is easy to get agitated or just lose focus. Yin yoga is something that you practice over time and its pretty normal to have a slow start and to take some time to develop a consistent practice; but when you do you will be very happy with the ever-increasing depth of a yin practice.

As you become more advanced in one style of yoga, particularly Yin yoga, you start to find yourself becoming almost too good at poses; sometimes muscles can be too flexible and not strong enough, but this is fixed with a changing yang practice. This is also one of the reasons Ashtanga is easier when you practice it every day; the muscles get used to the same stretches. This is also why you perform poses twice in Bikram classes.

Yin Yoga is a long road that I know I will continue to talk about and expand upon. I might even have a bigger section of my blog eventually devoted to the practice, so please let me know what you are interested in learning/reading about!

 

Ujjayi Breathing – The Victorious Yogic Breath

ujjayi breathing

The “Victorious” Breath

That changes in respiration that occur during a yoga practice might be the greatest benefit of yoga. Deep breathing using a technique such as the Ujjayi breathing technique can relieve stress and toxicity from the heart and the entire circulatory system. Ujjayi breathing specifically relaxes the body through diaphragmatic breathing meaning that air travels first into the bottom of your lungs, then fills them up from the bottom.This will normally sound a lot like the waves of ocean.This form of breathing is done during the entirety of a yoga practice, until one rests in savasana and the breathing is relaxed into normal mouth/nose breathing. But yoga is not the only time that you should feel you are allowed to practice this powerful relaxation technique. Anytime you need to control your stress response, you can use this technique to help regulate your stress level and respond appropriately to the situation.

How to Do Ujjayi Breathing

There are a few ways to begin Ujjayi breathing:

Start with a cross legged seated position, if possible:

  • Take deep breaths through your nose into your abdominals while sitting upright. Try to relax your muscles as you breath exclusively into your nose
  • Inhale into your nose and relax your shoulders as much as possible. Notice your belly rise and fall and your shoulders relax down your spine a little as you lift your best.
  • Bend your torso over your thighs, bend your knees, release your neck muscles so your forehead is heavy and leaning forward towards the floor. Take big breaths through your nose.

These are just a few ways to get started, but eventually you will get your Ujjayi breathing to be second nature, especially if you practice a lot of yoga.

A few more notes about how the Ujjayi breathing functions optimally: try to keep your inhales and exhales about the same length and continuous throughout the practice; if you notice your breathing stopping then try backing off a little and focus on increasing the quality of your breathing; don’t strain your lungs if you haven’t practiced in a while, its easy to do when you take extended breaks from yoga.

These techniques should help you to maintain a safe and powerful breath technique during your yoga practices.

A Taoist Tradition

Ujjayi comes partially from Taoist and yogic practices for meditation. Ujjayi can significantly add to the meditative quality of a yoga class and I have personally found it to be the defining factor of how well my yoga practice goes. It can also increase internal body heat and increase oxygenation to the muscles, both can significantly increase vitality.

Krishnamacharya taught that Ujjayi breathing helps to keep the energy sealed into the body, while using the bandhas to fully interlock energy into the spinal cord while practicing yoga. He also taught that a lock of the pelvic floor is essential to keep the energy within the body.

Ujjayi breathing is a powerful technique that shouldn’t be overlooked in everyday life. It can help you to deal with anxiety, stressful situations, bad drivers, mean bosses, anything that might cause an internal reaction. Use your Ujjayi breathing to your advantage when you want to calm and de-stress your body.

 

Here are some additional resources for your reference:

 

The Wanderer, Part 12

tao_garden

Please read the first parts of the story here:
The Wanderer, Part 1
The Wanderer, Part 2
The Wanderer, Part 3
The Wanderer, Part 4
The Wanderer, Part 5
The Wanderer, Part 6
The Wanderer, Part 7
The Wanderer, Part 8
The Wanderer, Part 9
The Wanderer, Part 10
The Wanderer, Part 11

Tas woke up in confusion, his breathing was shallow and a cold sweat laced his forehead. The soft cushions and a mattress supported as he regained his breath, finally remembering where he was from the grey stone floor of the monastery. His training was getting more intense; Paj was relentless in his teaching, giving Tas task after task and leaving no extra energy in the wake of his teaching. It wasn’t even interesting, he just had Tas memorizing patterns and movements of the stars and especially the planets. He was getting good at plotting Mercury, but the other five or six were a complete mystery. Paj worked him tirelessly saying it was all useless until he could track the movement of the six prime planets and major constellations. Then, he would learn about the planets of the planets, which granted stronger sight, but were seemingly impossibly complex. Tas was exhausted, even Shu was pushing Tas’ limits now; Tas sighed with fatigue, but he was happy to be tired. The only times he had ever worked this hard before had been with his father in the final days of the harvest.

He couldn’t remember his dream, but he could feel the intensity from the ferocious beating of his heart and felt flustered. He took his time to catch his breath and hung his head to clear and calm his mind. He rubbed the back of his neck, straining to remember. He went to his washroom and prepared for the day, taking his time, then went out to meander through the hall for the morning’s ceremony, the dream forgotten.

After the ceremony, he met Fei at the balcony, which was customary. But instead of order Tas to go with Shu for the day, he motioned for Tas to follow him. Tas soon found himself entering the Acharya’s chambers. It was full of artwork, paintings on the walls and floors and all sorts of trinkets, more beautiful than Tas had ever seen. No doubt it was the work of the monks, but Tas wondered why Fei had so many.

Fei motioned for Tas to sit on a beautiful rug on his floor and began to pour him tea. He smiled, the same beaming smile that Tas had grown accustomed to. He wondered when the monk wasn’t smiling and couldn’t hide his grin. The old monk simply smiled.

“Tas, you look tired. How have you been feeling?”

Tas hadn’t seen himself lately, but he was sure that the monk must be right, “I have been working hard, master Fei. The training here is very difficult!”

Fei laughed. He didn’t respond, but sipped his tea instead, waiting a moment. “Is this the kind of challenge that you want?”

“Why, yes master Fei.” Tas lowered his eyes, “I felt never felt so purposeful before, I focus only on my studies and learning meditation. I felt one foot begin to float off the floor yesterday!”

“Good, boy,” Fei said happily. “You’ll be able to levitate within your first year, if you keep it up.”

Tas was confused by this. A year? He was only staying for a few weeks, until Yao returned. Did this mean he could stay if he wanted?

“Paj has noticed your proficiency for star reading. He has asked that you stay for an additional month to continue studying. He says he can teach you three techniques in next six weeks time, and Yao has agreed. He will return then, as long as you approve.”

“Of course I approve,” Tas said eagerly. Everything seemed to be working in his favor now.

Fei nodded at the enthusiasm and sipped his tea slowly. They rose together and Tas left to go meet Shu in the trees.

When he arrived into the circle of silent monks, Shu was nowhere to be seen. Tas chose a tree and sat under its cool shade, letting himself drift off into his meditation, letting his thoughts, his mind, and his body go. His breath would take care of itself. He drifted off into the ocean of his mind, lost within the nothingness at his own core. He didn’t know how long he sat for, but when Shu woke him, his legs were completely numb. They walked together from the circle of trees and entered the grounds, following the path to the garden. Pink blossoms floated in the gentle wind and the water of the pond grew still as Shu sat by the edge. He motioned for Tas to do the same.

Shu spoke extremely slowly, Tas could hardly understand, but he leaned in to the monk’s soft words. “You are strong, Tas. Your meditation is so peaceful…” She looked a bit distraught, but mostly thoughtful. “You practice meditation with Yao?”

“Yes,” Tas said. “The old man is infuriating, but his lessons are invaluable,” Tas thought back to their journeys in the desert. He was excited to begin traveling again, but he was more excited to learn here. His meditations were indeed growing longer and longer.

“You are now a powerful meditator Tas, you can set aside your emotions easily, see clearly, but most importantly…” Shu looked at Tas determinedly, “You can empty yourself of judgement. This is the only way to see the truth. One of the first steps towards understanding god, is understanding truth, Tas. Knowledge is the key to understanding god, but you must relinquish all knowledge to truly know god.” Shu grinned, knowing that he was now talking to empty space.

Tas nodded, but he didn’t understand. He would learn, with time. But he knew that the monk was teaching him something valuable, so he remembered his words like a puzzle to be solved for later.

The Wanderer, Part 10

great_mist_view1

Please read the first parts of the story here:
The Wanderer, Part 1
The Wanderer, Part 2
The Wanderer, Part 3
The Wanderer, Part 4
The Wanderer, Part 5
The Wanderer, Part 6
The Wanderer, Part 7
The Wanderer, Part 8
The Wanderer, Part 9

Tas woke on a soft cushioned cot, his body felt rested for the first time since he was recuperating in the village hut over a week ago. He yawned, stretching his arms and legs, taking his time to enjoy the softness of his pillow and cot. He and the old man had arrived at the monastery yesterday and Tas had been sent to this room; he had fallen asleep within minutes.

He rose slowly, and walked into the washroom and got ready for the day. His hair had become a wild and black tangled mess and he took his time to use the comb to rack his hair for a time before giving up in the back. He sighed and dressed into the traditional robe he was given for clothing, and walked outside into a dark corridor.

Tas walked towards the lighter end of the hall, small candles lit the floor and he really had no idea where he was. But this is where he had been led by the monk the night before so he followed the longer portion of the hallway to the left. Once he had traveled up a few flights of stairs, he began to see monks, all with robes likes his and shaven heads. They were all moving so quietly and it was all he could do to move slowly with them. He rose up the final flights of stairs and came to the ground level of the monastery.

He hadn’t realized it the night before, but the monastery was high a on a hill overlooking the dense forest to the south. It later turned to jungle, but most of the trees were a lot taller than those Tas was used to and with a lot more thin leaves. He glanced at the temple above ground and thought the majority of the building must be below the hill, because he had taken five flights of stairs to get to the surface. He wondered what else was down there besides simple rooms for the monks.

Over five hundred monks were gathering together for their morning prayer, Yao would be with the acharya, the leader of the temple. When the gong over the entrance to the grounds began to sound, Tas could see Yao and a heavily decorated monk climbing down the steps from the upper level of the temple to a balcony over-looking the grounds; no doubt these were the acharya’s quarters. On the eighth sounding of the gong, every around Tas sat; he was quick to follow.

The acharya addressed the crowd with a wave of his hand, his smile radiated out towards them all. He spoke for a time in a way that Tas couldn’t understand. After a while, the monks began a chant together that lasted about 20 minutes and that Tas was able to participate in after a bit of listening to the responses. The gong began to sound loudly in the background and the monks rose and seemed to disperse throughout the grounds. Tas supposed they each had duties to perform and things to do during their days, though many seemed to be just wandering about, looking at the floor. This was a strange place indeed.

As the crowd thinned, Tas could see that Yao was waving at him to come over to meet the acharya. He walked to the center of the temple and up the steps to the balcony, where the two waited for him. The acharya seemed to be very excited at the prospect of meeting Tas and Yao’s attitude seemed to be the exact opposite. Immediately, the acharya seized Tas’ hand and asked, “You must be Tas, the boy that followed Yao from a small desert village. Yao told me about you about a month ago. He said that you wish to know god.”

“Well, yes sir, that’s true. I do wish to know god, or whatever it is that I can know.”

Yao let out a little laugh and the monks eyes grew tight as he peered at Tas. “Whatever it is that you can know, huh?” The acharya looked at Yao, but Yao simply shrugged his shoulders in response and gave another quick laugh. The acharya sighed, some of his enthusiasm seemed to die down.

“Well you can stay here as long as you like, as long as you abide by the rules of our order. You are welcome here and you can get one square meal of rice each day that you decide to stay. Perhaps you will stay here and study god with us.”

Tas was a bit surprised at the offer, he had never been offered to stay anywhere as a guest before. And this was what he had been looking for, a chance to learn about god!

“I would love to, sir.” Tas bowed to the man as he spoke, trying to show as much respect as he possibly could. “But can I ask you a question, sir?”

The acharya looked skeptically at Tas, but his expression gave way to a smile and he said, “of course.”

“What is god?”

“That is not a question that I can answer, Tas from the desert.” The acharya seemed to know that it was coming and seemed unaffected. “But if you stay here for a time….” He glanced over at Yao, seeming skeptical of something himself, but the crooked old man seemed to have a special glint of light in his eyes, as if he knew some joke that he was keeping to himself. “and if you continue to follow Yao, perhaps you will answer that question for yourself one day.”

The acharya looked satisfied with the answer, but Tas was not. “You mean I came all the way here, through the jungle, wandering endlessly in the desert, and nearly dying to just ‘answer the question for myself’? So much for a monastery.”

The acharya laughed, surprising Tas. “You are surprised that your difficult question is not easy? It is difficult. And different for each person. If you want to understand the god that I know, I will teach you how to see what I see.”

Tas nodded, this was more of what he needed. Training and guidance. Yao seemed to be very far away, though he was right there. Tas wondered what the old man was thinking.

“Good, Tas, we will start your training first thing tomorrow morning. Wakeup with the morning sun and come to meditate with me after we gather together. I will show you how to see properly.” He seemed to find this incredibly amusing and gave Yao a big push on the shoulder as he said it, causing the old man to react and nearly toss the acharya over his shoulder. Both stopped and broke into laughter as they began to wrestle, now a little more fiercely, but also more playfully. A couple of minutes later, Tas asked the acharya one final question.

“What is your name?”

“My name is Fei.” The older man looked happy, as though he had just won a prize at the lottery. “make sure you get good rest. Tomorrow will be a long day of training for you.” Fei smiled happily as he said it. Yao was not quite so happy, but seemed to be in his usual observant and detached state. Tas couldn’t be sure if the old man was happy or sad that Tas was going to stay for a time. The old man was so hard to read.

But as Tas left to go back down the stairs to the grounds to walk around for the afternoon, Yao yelled, “I’ll return in a month, kid. Try not to get into any trouble with the local villagers.” Tas could see the old man grin as he said the last words, then continued walking.

Tas turned and walked towards the gardens, happy to be in a place where he had always thought he was meant to be. Finally, he would learn what he had left his entire life behind to know. But he wondered what Fei had meant by training and knew that would have to wait for tomorrow to find out.

 

 

 

The Wanderer, Part 4

A Dark Tree (wanderer part 4)

Please read the first parts of the story here:
The Wanderer, Part 1
The Wanderer, Part 2
The Wanderer, Part 3

Tas walked into the shade of a large tree, bigger than the others. It had strange markings, and the old man seemed to move slower than usual as the rose up the wooden footholds to the epicenter of the trees branches, which was a large platform. Tas knew there would be plenty of hiding places throughout the tree, this one seemed even more decorated than the last, in myriad and countless small ways.

He began to sit with the old man, but the old man moved quickly from his crouch and push Tas right in the chest. He tripped backwards and fell down the tree, tumbling head over feels onto the hard dirt below. Luckily, he fell down the side of a root and rolled well down the trees branches into a small thicket. He took a few breathes in the bush, making sure everything was okay and moved slightly. He could feel pain when he inhaled deeply, probably something was broken. He moved to stand and found the old man assisting him from the base of the tree, holding something to his head.

His vision grew blurry and he faded and laid against the tree, falling in and out of consciousness. He tried to wake up, but felt his head hit his shoulder and couldn’t remember why he should hold on.

He woke with a bit of a start, cold water dripped from his forehead, he tasted a bit, then opened his eyes. The old man pulled him up slowly, he could hear the laughing in the background. He grew angry, but was very groggy, so he soon forgot his anger.

A few minutes later, the old man pulled him to his feet. He was still a bit woozy, but he could see straight. The was a sharp, splitting pain in the side of his head. And he was quite hungry.

Disgruntled and determined, he pushed the old man in the back. He tripped and fell forward, though he braced his forearms for the blow. He rose slowly, grimacing, and looked back at the boy. He saw his face, then laughed and sat down. He motioned for Tas to do the same.

Tas sat as the old man gestured, no longer waiting for his permission. Their couple of months together had taught him enough about standing for what he needed.

“Why did you push me?” He asked the old man, confused, anger returning as he saw the nonchalant manner of the old man.

“You need little push.” He said, chuckling. “Me too.” He looked down at his forearms, scraped and a little bloody, but no serious injury. He laughed again.

Tas waited for something else, but he found that his anger left quickly. He didn’t seem to have sustained too much of an injury, but, he could not figure out the point in this lesson, it seemed so pointless. He looked long and hard at his master, as if willing him to answer with the force of his attention.

The old man, surprisingly, looked up at Tas. “Time for you to learn faster. You ready.” The old man nodded his head while studying the determination in Tas’ eyes. “I push because sometimes, you need push. Sometimes, life push when you don’t need. Good to be ready for pushes. So I help you be ready. Now, you need real push.” He laughed long and hard this time, his usual jovial and mysterious manner returning. “In the morning, you leave, big village, called Lothal. By sea.” He made a weird flowy motion with his hands, but Tas had no idea what he was referring to.

They spent the afternoon talking about what he would do in the city. He would bring back a big bag of rice and another of dried fruit. He would spend a month working and begging before to make enough money to buy the food and he would return with it. The old man knew an inn keeper that would give him a room, provided he gave him a silver each night. Each day, he was to earn 3 silvers.

Tas was excited, he felt as though he were finally doing something, far different from the last two months had been. He looked up to see the old man leaving, walking down from the tree and into the night. Tas couldn’t believe that he would go out into the desert while it was so dark, he knew that animals hunted. He could hear their cries at night. Yet the old man left without a glance back, his soft sway fading eventually into the dark of night.

Tas simply sat for a few moments, suddenly feeling so alone. He hadn’t realized it, but he had truly come to find the presence of the old man as comforting. They hadn’t eaten dinner either, and Tas had no idea where the rice could be hidden. He looked through a few bags, but found nothing. It was always hidden in such strange places.

He slept easily, with a bit of meditation before to forget his stomach. He would eat when he entered the big village the old man had called ‘Lothal’. He was to find a large man there, of dark skin, whose name was Shatar. He would be at a home with a blue door, and a sign above that called it ‘rest long, eat lots’. He hoped that eating lots could happen often, he was very tired of his small meals with nearly no variation. His body ached for more.

He walked from the tree wiping all traces of his passage, as the old man had taught him. His hunger was almost overwhelming, he hoped the city was not far. He set out towards the rising sun, where he knew to find Lothal in the east, by the sea.

The Wanderer, Part 3

A Dark Sky

Please read the first parts of the story here:
The Wanderer, Part 1
The Wanderer, Part 2

Part 3

There was once a boy, who decided to follow a wandering old man into the desert. The boy’s name was Tas. He plunged headlong into the desert in the apprenticeship of this wandering man to find perfect, sustainable bliss and to know god.

Tas continued to wake up in strange places. He could never quite make out if they had been to the same place twice, the old man seemed to have innumerable hiding places for eating and sleeping in the vast expanses of the desert tundra. He knew hunger, but it was never too extreme. The old man claimed it helped him to be more awake. Tas had no idea what he meant.

One night, while the old man prepared food, Tas asked for more. Fatigue had begun to settle into his muscles and body and he thought only about more food.

The old man looked at him incredulously, as if not comprehending what he had heard. He stared at Tas for a few minutes, without moving, watching. Then he scanned Tas’ body, first with his eyes, then he began to poke and prod his muscles and joints. This continued for quite a while.

Tas was finally ready to shout at the old man to stop. The sage was in the process of shaking Tas’ knees for a few minutes straight and making weird motions with Tas’ ankles, when he suddenly stopped and became distracted with something, make Tas look up from his supine position. He pulled Tas up to his feet and immediately everything went black.

Tas could only hear the old man from a distance, he didn’t quite know where he was. He began to fall, slowly at first, then a bit faster, until he realized that he couldn’t fall forever. Immediately, he tripped forward onto his hands. He looked up to see a slow trickle of water, then a tidal wave blasted against his face until….

He woke up again, this time he was shaking and dripping wet. The sage exploded with a hearty laugh and his eyes twinkled as he spoke, “You have nice vacation?”

At first, Tas was a bit angry at the sage. But he could see that dinner was ready, so he easily forgot his anger, and took a huge bite from his bowl.

The sage laughed again, “You remember, we meditate before dinner. But this time, one bite, it’s okay. Now we wait.”

Tas sighed as he chewed. He slowed down, knowing this would be his one bit for a long while. The rice was still warm for the first time since he’d left his home over 2 weeks ago and it took him a while to slowly let the completely digested rice, few vegetable scraps and a couple of nuts into his stomach.

He could tell when he finished that the sage was in a deep meditation; he swayed slightly with the wind and his breath was soft and like a gentle wave it came and went. He closed his eyes and immediately felt himself exhaling completely and again he felt the sensation of absolute freedom. Each breath became a bit deeper, a bit more meaningful, a bit louder.

He lost himself in the nothingness, and began to feel his own body sway. He sat for a long time, though he had no idea how long. Eventually, he opened his eyes to see the sage smiling, his biggest smile yet. “Now, we feast.”

Slowly, still feeling the sensation of being lost, Tas ate, one bite at a time, finally beginning to trust the old man. He could feel each bite, so filling, so powerful for his body. When he was done, after a long while of enjoying each grain, each bit of spice, he set the bowl down and closed his eyes for a few more moments, before drifting off with the wind into the sky, where he forgot about everything but the gentle glow of the stars and the black clouds that hid them in the darkness of the sky.

 

The Wanderer, Part 2

desert_wandering

Please read the first part of the story here: The Wanderer, Part 1

There was once a boy, who decided that he would follow a wanderer into the desert to learn about god. The boy’s name was Tas. After receiving the approval of his parents, he travelled into the desert in the apprenticeship of a wandering wise man to find perfect bliss, realization of the divine, and to learn god.

They walked until the small town  once a few hours had passed in silence, the boy began to ask the sage questions. However, the desert man did not respond. At first he listened, but upon hearing the boy’s questions, the teacher dismissed his words. The boy fell silent, angry that he had been duped into following an old man who wouldn’t talk.

Finally, they came to a tree, alone in the vast expanse of desert, rising into the setting sun like a monolith of entangled roots, branches, and a thick trunk supporting a massive web of leaves fanning out in all directions.

Upon arrival, the old man seemed to inspect some different areas of the tree, then he hit some things, moved some rocks, then he grabbed under a protruding root for a small sack. Inside, Tas could barely make out some old and dusty looking jars and a few scrolls. The old man grabbed one of the smaller jars and a small but very sharp knife.

Then the sage, slow as usual when not walking in the hot sun, took his time to uncover a hidden pot and then gathered some stones to place in a circle for a fire. The grass was a dead golden brown, and the sun was setting down into the horizon, purple and pink streaks of light shone through the powerful clouds illuminating the sky. Tas’ stomach rolled on itself; he was just starting to realize the effects of walking all day without eating. He clutched his stomach.

“We can eat now?” He said simply, not wanting to offend the sage, fearing that his meal might depend upon it. The sage looked at him for a long moment and waited. Suddenly, he laughed.

Tas was confused. Who was this man who had led him astray into the desert and seemed to know the way so well. He thought the man was holy and knew of god and that sort of thing, but he was beginning to think that this man was simply insane and very poor.

The old man laughed again, as if he knew what the boy was thinking. “You don’t think twice about god now. Funny, how easy we forget.”

The boy had no idea what the man meant. Yes, he was on his journey to god. What was the old man talking about? Surely he didn’t need to focus on his mission every moment of the day.

“I don’t think about god because I am hungry.” Tas said slowly, uncertain of the old man’s eccentric responses. He looked up from his arranging of stones, which he had been finishing for the last 5 minutes. He began to use the knife to cut wood from the tree for the fire. Tas wondered how long it might take.

The sage seemed to move even slower. He made no response to Tas, which just proved to infuriate him further. Tas’ stomach was beginning to really hurt now, he could not remember ever going a day without a meal.

He watched as the old man slowly started a fire, using a flint and tinder that he carried with him. Tas was preoccupied with his stomach, it was really starting to growl now. The sage heard the low rumble and laughed. He asked Tas with a freshly curious tone, “you are hungry, yes?”

Tas responded, “Yes, of course, can you not hear my stomach?”

“Yes, of course I hear. You are the only sound here for many steps,” he laughed to himself, Tas had no idea what the joke was. He only grew angrier each time the old man laughed.

He began to take out some rice, and some water from his pack and heated the water in the pot. He was in a jolly mood indeed, seemingly more so each time Tas grunted with pain from his stomach.

Finally, the rice was finished, the old man added some spices, some nuts, and some dried vegetables that he stirred in with the rice. A couple of minutes later, the old man finished splitting the second half of the rice and placed it at the boys feet. The boy moved to eat…

“Wait!” the old man exclaimed, pushing Tas’ chest up from the floor. Tas groaned furiously.

“I cannot wait! I have never been so hungry in my life!” the boy said, now beginning to feel the pain subside a little less than it was before.

“You want to know god?” The old man looked directly into Tas’ eyes, they seemed to see right into him, and Tas couldn’t help but shiver. Goosebumps lined his hand and legs even though the night was quite warm, but the old man continued to stare. He looked into the embers of the fire and remembered his father, his mother, and the suffering they endured. He remembered his grandfather, whom he had just barely know, but he knew from his father that the man was great, honorable, loved by the whole family.

“Yes, I want to know!” The boy’s anger seemed to spill out, all of his rage accumulated in the words and he couldn’t help but feel the quiet breeze settling around him. The night seemed to grow quieter and twilight was in full bloom, a nearly full moon bright in the sky.

“Good,” said the old man, slower than before. His eyes were closed and he seemed to sway in the breeze. “Then we wait.” Tas stared at the old man for a moment before realizing that he was not going to open his eyes.

“What do we wait for?” Tas said, agitation lacing his voice poisonously.

“Until you are the wind, you wait. Close your eyes. Listen. Breathe slowly. Listen.”

Realizing suddenly that this was his first lesson, Tas immediately shit his eyes and began to listen. But he soon found himself adjusting his sitting. He found that he could not stop thinking about how hungry he was no matter how hard he tried to listen. He started to play with his fingers, waiting for the old man, he couldn’t listen with this hunger in his mind.

The old man, without opening his own eyes, said, “Close your eyes. Do not think of your stomach. Think of god.”

But this only served to perplex the boy more. They were out in the wilderness, under a tree, in the middle of nowhere. How could he think about god here? So he decided to try one more time. He closed his eyes, and this time, took a big breath in. As he inhaled, he could feel his chest expand and as he listened to his breath, he could hear the softness of the wind playing with his breath.

Immediately, the old man laughed, and said, “Good! You know already to learn. This is good. Tomorrow we learn more. Now we eat.”

The boy had forgotten about the food, just for a moment. He had forgotten about everything. He could still feel the breath, but never in the same way. He re-realized his hunger when he began to eat, then almost immediately fell to sleep. He did not think of a blanket, or even of his home, only that one moment, where he had felt so free.

The Best Way to Wake up

Phillip Miller's photo

I got a chance to visit the Sierra Hot Springs last night and came back this morning. It was an interesting experience, both because of the Hot Springs and the relaxing atmosphere of the mountains. The elevation is probably about 6,000 feet high and the springs are 108 degrees. Extremely hot.

It took some getting use to, that was for sure. But the water was so relaxing; when I put my shoulders under the water, I couldn’t keep my eyes open. There were two cold pools as well, with water that was about 55 or 60 degrees, for cooling down in between sessions of the hot pool. It was a pretty cool experience. After a couple rotations in the hot tub, I went straight to sleep.

I woke up to a brisk gust of wind and birds chirping loudly in the evergreen trees, some were sequoias. I did the hot/cold rotation in the spa a couple more times, then went in the 80 or so degree pool outside and let the sun dry me off. The most relaxing part of this whole experience were the shifts and changes in my breath and how my body relaxed drastically with the heat and changes in temperature. It made me rethink the ways that I wake my body up in the mornings. I think that the changes in temperature in the shower are probably similarly therapeutic. Kundalini practitioners wake to cold showers to stimulate the nerves. Needless to say, it was a blissful way to wake up. But after its relaxation, this experience made me miss something… waking up to do yoga.

That may sound a bit weird, but meditation are beginning to become a really special part of the day for me. Right when I wake up, if I can get 10 minutes of breath focus and a few yin asanas I feel amazing. But I am getting back into a routine of working, which means that I am also getting back into my ashtanga routine. The stimulation of sun salutations and breathing exercises in the morning is an incredible way to wake up the mind.

Sun Salutations are probably the most powerful exercises I know of to wake up the spine. They sooth the body, stretch arms, legs, and flex and bend the spine back and forth, then proceed to increase heart rate and stimulate the circulatory system over time. Throw some jump-backs, jump-throughs, chair poses, warrior 1s, handstands, and of course everyone’s favorite chaturanga in there and you have some extreme burpee-like calisthenic exercises. Tomorrow I am going to start a sun salutation video series, or at least try to get one rolling without a goPRO.

I am planning on starting a new video series tomorrow teaching the fundamental poses of surya namaskara A. Surya is the sun god from Hinduism, to whom the poses are devoted. I’ll show you some of the techniques I use to wake my body up in the morning with the sequence. Stay tuned and check back tomorrow yogis…

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.