The Space Between: Creating the Creative Mind

Cue up Dave Matthews and let that song run in the background of your mind. I just created a thought wave for you. In yoga speak, it’s called a chitta vrtti, a cool way of saying fluctuation of the mind.

Often times the analogy of an unruly monkey is used with a leash. I prefer the image of the ocean, rising and falling, sometimes turbulent, sometimes calm – that’s just the nature of the ocean – to fluctuate with the weather. Same with humans – the nature of our mind is to fluctuate with each new input. That’s not a bad thing. It’s normal.

Chitta Vrtti

If you have been going to yoga or meditation with this idea that you have to stop thinking – you don’t. That is not the teaching in the Yoga Sutras and it’s not the purpose of meditation. It’s worth clarification because often students will say something like, “I’m not Good at Meditating.” This indicates that thought is bad, which isn’t true, it also indicates that calming yourself is something to be “good,” at doing – logically, the process never ends, therefore, one can never be good at it.

Thinking mind is only troublesome if it gets in the way of living fully. Our thoughts of creativity and even of anxiety are necessary human skills which help us solve problems and also keep us from life threatening danger. The issue is when your thoughts are based on misperception or are redundant, like a broken record. Someone once told me that 80% of our thoughts are the same thoughts we had the day before and someone else said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result. This is the problem that yoga practice aims to solve.

Repeat

You don’t have a THINKING problem, but you may have a REPETITIVE thinking problem. Make sense?

The techniques of yoga are utilized to create space between your thoughts. This helps you have the time and awareness to notice destructive, non-helpful thought patterns and create the space for enhanced creative thinking.

SPace

Meditation Practice

Let’s try this as a meditation – this is something anyone, anywhere can use. Being good is not a requirement.

  • Sit quietly and comfortably
  • Notice the thoughts in your mind. Are they fast or slow? Are they on one topic or many? Are they a list or are they visual? Just notice your thought process without controlling or stopping it.
  • Before you go further – notice if you are judging your thoughts. Rather than judge, sink into the noticing – nothing is wrong with you, you are sitting safe and still, the only thing moving is your mind.
  • Now notice your breath. Is it fast or slow? Is it rough or smooth? Is it deep or shallow? Is your breath moving as your thoughts are moving?
  • Become aware of the spaces between the breath. Become aware of the spaces between the thoughts. Just notice without control.
  • Do the thoughts impact the breath?
  • Does the breath impact the thoughts?
  • Just notice.
  • Continue fluctuating between breath and thought for about 2-3 minutes, longer if so inclined.
  • As you conclude, notice any difference in the thoughts between the time you began and the conclusion. That’s good information for you to receive.

You’re done! You did great! And if you applied the meditation without just reading through it, now you understand Yoga Sutra 1.2 – Yoga as the process of creating space for clearer thinking.

Pause

If you are interested in more info on the Yoga Sutras, check out my Instagram feed – I am doing a project where I’m posting all the Sutras as images.

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A Bag Full of Pennies Bought a Lifetime of Shoulder Pain

There she stood at the teacher’s desk, must have been in 4th or 5th grade.  She held a plastic sandwich baggie full of pennies. She couldn’t even afford a Ziploc. The teacher made her count them out loud, in front of the whole class.

One, Two, Three……One Hundred and Nine, One Hundred and Ten. Lunch money.

They all laughed.  They all pointed.

The teacher announced loudly that the next day the girl needed to bring a dollar bill.

An awkward child figure, with big curly hair and a big nose with second hand clothing, hung her head and silent tears rolled down as she shamefully walked back to her desk without a friend in the world, knowing without a doubt that at 10 years old, she was poor, she was different, and no one really cared. Her shoulders hunched a little more that day as she learned to close off her heart and protect herself.

This is one of my earliest memories of trauma and I found it in a yoga class. It has sat inside my body, inside my muscles, creating an unknown tension for many years.  The memory of it just sort of popped up one day, in an intense shoulder opening.  Like an unwelcome visitor in the body, knocking on my mind to say, “you need to deal with me.” And just like that, the shoulders relaxed a little more and that bit of tension was forever gone.

Many people walking around in your life have untold stories of trauma. It isn’t just one story, it isn’t just trauma from abuse or war, any experience that leaves you feeling shamed, unloved, unwanted, abandoned can give you a traumatic shock in your body system. We get very good at hiding our stories from others, we get very good at getting small and unnoticed, and we call that “fitting in.” Except even if you never talk about it, never remember it consciously, your body knows and you can’t lie or hide from it forever.

Maybe your trauma lives in your shoulders and neck as a sort of tension you can’t seem to let go, no matter how calm and soothing or sweaty and hot the yoga class. Maybe it’s digestive issues that no medical doctor can seem to explain or they tell you “it’s all in your head.” Perhaps it is an intense desire to eat your emotions.  This is the power of yoga practice, the awareness it brings to your body and mind so that you can be open and available for true deep healing.

This is also why some people don’t like yoga – it makes you face things that perhaps you aren’t sure you want to dig back out, so you think, I’ll just outrun it – maybe with a marathon. Except that as you age and you stop being able to run, the body catches up and it still holds the tension of those traumatic lessons you chose not to deal with in your earlier years.

The point is, everyone has a story to unravel and a yoga mat is usually a safe space to reread and release your story so you can feel less trapped by your body. The next time you are in a yoga class and you feel the urge to leave a pose you don’t like, try staying and see what comes up. Keep a journal so you keep aware of how you feel and what you might purge. Be OK with shedding some tears and having catharsis.

Not every pose is beautiful and not every yoga class is joyful – you need to know that it’s OK to release and feel angry or sad, don’t suppress those emotions any further, they are physical expressions of fear from your life lived and all the accumulated experiences, but to heal you have to wade through them. You need to know where they live in your body. To know they exist so you can let them go. The final limb of yoga is joy – not the first. It takes a lot of hard work; trust the process, it’s time tested for at least 3,000 years.

Yoga is NOT entertainment, there is no doubt that you can have a rockin’ good time in a great yoga class with high volume music and that’s OK too, not every yoga session needs to be a huge release of some trauma. But if you want the real meat, the real healing, you have to do the real work and it’s not balancing on your head – it’s going into the deep unknown, exploring the abyss and that can be scary.

Find yourself a teacher that has been there and come back, not necessarily enlightened – for the ones that claim enlightenment are usually false gurus. Find the ones that don’t judge you, that allow for quiet, that make you feel safe. As Pattabi Jois said, “Practice and all is coming.”

I give thanks to my own teachers, to my own students, and those that have walked the path of life with me.  I am the person I am because of life’s traumas and my work in overcoming obstacles.  Thank you, dear reader, for spending a little time in my world.  You are loved.

Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm – Feel the Vibrations

Vinyasa MeansThere is a certain power in the chanting of Sanskrit. This is not the incantation of spells or any magic – it is simply the use of our human ability to create unique sounds by movement of our mouth, tongue, and throat in a special way (which is a VINYASA!). On the physical level, one can easily feel the vibrations of resonance through the body simply by putting the lips together and humming (do it now – no one is watching you).

This technique is called Bhramari Pranayama and is a valid practice all on its own. If you are in need of anger management, feeling frustrated, or suffering anxiety – this is a good and simple technique you can do anytime, anywhere with no contraindications.

Why even bother making sound at all?

How does a good beat and good hook catch you? It resonates in your body and you feel something, a connection, an emotion – sound is one method of taking us out of the swirling mind and into a clear, present moment.

Why the need for a Sanskrit chant or mantra when there is plenty of music to be found?

One reason would be that we have no associations with the Sanskrit language. None of our memories or human conditioning have happened in Sanskrit, we have no preconceived notion of what it means when we hear it. Sanskrit is a perfect blank slate for most people – we can learn it from our teachers and then it becomes associated with practice and a great tool for meditation. The meaning we infuse is one of practice, peace, and presence.

Sanskrit is also a vibratory language, it is closely aligned with primordial sounds and each letter produces a specific resonance within the body meant to vibrate in specific areas or energy lines (nadis).  One could think of it as the Paleo diet of language.

This is also why it is important to learn the names of our asana and to hear it said in class, the names of the asanas carry the same energetic qualities as the poses themselves – layering on the proper name is important. Consider for a moment how you feel when not called your proper name – yoga tradition is similarly to be respected.

 

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Pranava of Om

You don’t have to believe me, experience it. Try an Om, the most well-known of the mantras. It is pronounced A-U-M; the aaaaaaaaaaa resonates in the belly, the uuuuuuuuuuu vibrates into the chest, and the mmmmmmmmmm is felt in the head. Although there are many meanings attributed to Aum or Om, it’s ok to enjoy it as a feel good vibe and respect the simplicity.

Breath Mantra – So Hum

Another easy mantra with no religious connection would be So Hum. This is simply the sound of your breathing. Take a moment to listen to your breath.

On the inhale – can you hear the whisper of breath saying So? Can you hear Hum on the exhale? What is the purpose of chanting the breath? To further connect to your true self and to disconnect from your ceaseless and noisy mind. So Hum is an excellent way to develop a meditation practice.

This is How We Do It

In learning to chant or use vibration, it is taught that you say the chants out loud – this occupies the senses of hearing, feeling, and even tasting as the tongue is involved.   We close our eyes and restrict the sense of sight.  All brings us closer to the yogic state of sense withdrawl (Pratyahara) Knowing our brains to be poor multi-taskers, chanting aloud gives more opportunity to quite the mind. You will notice it is near impossible to chant and think at the same time.

The next stage would be whispering the chant very softly. You will notice that if you are not yet well-trained in meditation, it is easy for the brain to get louder than the whisper, hence why it is the second stage.

The final stage is silent repetition in the mind only and this is the most difficult. It can be easy to go on auto pilot and sink back to thinking mind. If this happens to you, go back to repetition out loud to reconnect with the meditation. The purpose is quieting the mind to reduce distracted thought and allow creative, expansive, clear thinking to arise so that we might know our own gifts and share them.

Mala Beads

Frequently you see the use of mala beads – this helps to count the repetition and becomes a sort of time-keeper for your practice. In general, there are 108 beads and you repeat your mantra 108 times. Look for me to post more on the significance of 108 and mala beads in the future. But for now, the use of the beads is another good way to occupy your mind from thinking and anxiety, the mala is a great meditation companion.  Lotus Seed Mala Beads

Personally, I enjoy using mantra and sound in my asana practice. It is an enhancement to your routine and produces a palpable energetic effect as it naturally regulates your breathing. Many traditions of yoga utilize a mantra during asana as a way to time the breath and track the sequence.

Practice

Now to bring it back to the simple breath chant – So Hum. Try this right now – using a mala or a timer (try 3-5 minutes), sit on the floor or your mat, cross legs or lotus, and focus on your breathing. Add the So and Hum out loud as you breathe. How do you feel? Share your experience in the comments.

Gratitude

With respect and recognition, I salute my teachers that have helped me on this path.  For this love of mantra, I want to recognize teacher, Dr. Indu Arora, who illuminated aspects of this practice so I could understand and hope to share.  Namaste to you readers, thank you for spending this precious time with these words that flow through me to you, for you.

 

Pick and Choose – Daily Sadhana (Healthy Rituals) in the New Year

Here it is, the last day of 2014.  I started my last morning of this year by doing what I hope to do eveyday in the year to come.  I practiced living a better life in order to contribute to making a better world.  The key word there is practice.

Start your morning off right - everyday in 2015, wake up, pay attention to your practice, and have a fabulous day.

In yoga, a word we use to define a daily practice or ritual is SADHANA.

“What is sadhana? It’s a committed prayer (of living life). Sadhana is self-enrichment. Sadhana is a personal process in which you bring out your best.” ~Yogi Bhajan~

This is the day we are meant to set resolutions and then joke about throwing them out by February.  Let’s not do that this year.  This year, let’s simply make an intention or a Sankalpa to be a little better than last year.  This mindset will feed everything else and permeate your year.  It certainly doesn’t mean throwing out goals, but it does mean using your practice to lift up everything else.  This is your year to grow, thrive, and achieve.  Practice your potential everyday and you will see results.  Start with a morning sadhana to make every day of your life a little better than last year.

Recommended Practices for Daily Sadhana

Choose 1-3 things to do daily in 2015. No need to overwhelm yourself, when we practice our potential, it can be nice to go slow so that the changes stick and we don’t overwhelm ourselves or stress about these incremental changes. You are welcome to do it all if you can, but pick out a couple practices that you will promise yourself not to skip – be realistic with your choices so that you will be able to complete your commitment. Write down your choices and stick it on your mirror in the bathroom.

  • Establish a sacred space in your home. Some call this an altar, but that word can conjure up false images in the mind. It is simply a dedicated space that is beautiful to you, with reminders of your faith and what inspires you like a piece of art, flowers, or photo of your teacher. If you like to be in the space, you are more likely to stick with the practice.
  • Rise a bit earlier than normal – start with 10-15 minutes. Ideally, in yoga, the most sacred time for practice is between 4 am and 6 am.
  • Tongue scrape. Get a tongue scrapper and clean your mouth.  The tongue gets loaded with various toxins through sleep, it is elimination in the body, if you swallow it, you have to purge it again. One of my teachers, Dr. Indu Arora – an ayurvedic expert, states that the toxins on the tongue post sleep were unable to be processed by the liver. Regardless, your mouth will be happier and you will have uncovered your taste buds, so food will be extra yummy. Then brush as usual.
  • Oil pulling. Many people have been writing about oil pulling, do a quick Google. You can use the oil appropriate for your dosha. I personally use Sunflower oil or coconut oil. This practice has been found to reduce plague and tartar as well as whiten your teeth.
  • Drink a full glass of water 8-16 oz.  Use glass or copper, no plastic please. For extra credit, add in a slice of lime or lemon and make sure your water is lukewarm, this jumpstarts your digestion and wakes up your metabolism.
  • Oil your body and self-massage. Anoint yourself with oils for both the physical benefits of moisturizing the skin along with the feel-good element of a morning massage. Wait about five minutes and then shower. If you are short on time, be sure to rub your ears, face, and chest – waking up your senses and touching your heart center for a more alive beginning of your day.
  • Pranayama. This is the breath practice of yoga, there are several options – have your teacher show you a few.  A simple practice is nadi shodhana, the alternate nostril breath. Try 9 rounds. Watch the video for guidance.

  • Yoga Asana. Move your As-ana. This doesn’t need to be fancy or a 90 minute commitment, although if you can – all the better. If you have time constraints or children, squeezing in 3-5 sun salutations is helpful and a committed practice – it counts. Simple and steady is better than doing nothing.

    sun-salutation-INSET

    Basic Sun Salutation. Visit your local teacher for specific instructions or message me personally at my page – Kirsten Hedden Yoga on Facebook.

  • Meditate. No epic practice required. Your meditation can be breath focus or simply sitting for a few quiet moments in your favorite space. 3-5 minutes is ok, don’t feel like you need to be still and silent for 30 minutes – do what you can.  Personally, I chant mantra to help me focus and reduce anxious thinking.
  • Eat breakfast! Try a light serving of fruit with a sprinkle of cinnamon and a handful of nuts. Off you go with a sweet taste in your mouth and powered by protein. In Ayurveda, one should not mix dairy and fruit – so if you are a smoothie person, keep it dairy free.

I love thinking of waking in the morning to perform a committed prayer of living my life – for me, this mindset and all encompassing aspect of yoga is what makes it work in my life more than mere exercise or gymnastics. Yoga is the art of living connected.  Let your life be more artistic this year.

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Sadhana is whatever you do consistently to clear your own consciousness so you can relate to the infinity within you. Before you face the world each day, do yourself a favor and tune up your nervous system and attune yourself to your highest inner self. To cover all your bases, it will include exercise, meditation, and prayer. ~3HO~

The Dark Night of the Soul and Your Yoga Practice

**Please Note** This post contains a swear word.  If this would offend you, please don’t read further.

There comes a point in your yoga practice when you have to stare at yourself and you might not like it.  This is a dark little secret in yoga that some don’t care to discuss, with all the love and light and joy memes.  Nowhere in the Yoga Sutras does it say that all of your life will be blissfully happy – that’s something the marketing gurus selling you a yoga butt invented.

It is OK if you feel rotten, depressed, angry, bored, indifferent, or some sense of negativity in your yoga at times.  Read that again – IT IS OK to be upset.  Yoga opens up things within us and what needs to be taught is that it is NORMAL to not be cloying sweet and happy all your yoga life – you have to process the negative to become more positive.

You have to get deep in that muck and then like the lotus, you will emerge happier, healthier, and open to life – but first comes the mud and sometimes it smells rotten.  No Mud No Lotus

 

This point in your life practice is lovingly referred to as, “The Dark Night of the Soul.”  Basically, you have to get real about your problems.  You have to face the reality of all the actions you’ve taken up to this point of practice, you get to take a very real look at your Karma and sometimes that is ugly, especially if you are a human that has made mistakes (all of us!).

 

You may go through a depression or an increase in anxiety – don’t worry about it (haha and roll eyes).  This is actually a sign that you are clearing up.  You can’t clean what you can’t see.  Yoga shines the light in our darkest places; that can be very uncomfortable.  Those memories you worked so hard to suppress, they bubble right up to the surface and you have to deal with that shit.  And that’s why people sometimes quit on their yoga.  This part can be more painful than falling on your head in crow pose.

In the Dark Night of the Sould, Brightly Flows the River of God

It is at this point in your practice when you need to find yourself a highly experienced yoga teacher that is living this path, that has pushed past this very issue in their own psyche and body. This is not the time to focus on a yoga butt, but the time to enter into the deeper practices of Sense-Withdrawl (Pratyahara), One-pointed focus (Dharana), and Meditation (Dhyana). 

A good teacher can lead you through this valley of dark and shadows in a safe way and illuminate the more important teachings of yoga for you.  Seek out a teacher with years of experience and who still has a teacher of their own.  Be picky, don’t get distracted by shiny pants and tiny tops with great abs – remember that The Buddha had a belly and was never depicted with his foot behind his head – but rather in meditation and mudra.  Sometimes your best teacher may not be a yoga-lebrity, especially when you enter the dark stages of your practice.  10843791_345959338923369_1679910113_n

When people complain that they aren’t flexible enough or strong enough for yoga asana, consider that this is just a mental blockage – you do the asana to build the body strength and flexibility so that the mind becomes more pliable as well. Once you clear up the self-judgement, you start becoming a more compassionate, less judgemental person – that’s how you share your practice to make the world better.

It is true that the world has dark places – you cannot ignore the reality of death and destruction that permeate our planet, nor should you.  But you can remember that out of darkness comes the light and they both exist together.  G.O.D. – Generator, Organizer, Destroyer – rinse and repeat. 

Ask yourself:

Have you been the person that says, “I can’t meditate, I can’t be still, I can’t get quiet.” – yeah, me too.  That shit is hard.  You have to literally stare yourself in the soul and get open to what comes up.  But stay a while longer, Practice and All Is Coming.

The Dark Night of The Soul by St. John of the Cross

Upon a darkened night
The flame of love was burning in my breast
And by a lantern bright
I fled my house while all in quiet rest

Shrouded by the night
And by the secret stair I quickly fled
The veil concealed my eyes
While all within lay quiet as the dead.

(Chorus)

O, night thou was my guide!
O, night more loving than the rising sun!
O, night that joined the Lover to the beloved one!
Transforming each of them into the other.

Upon that misty night
In secrecy beyond such mortal sight
Without a guide or light
Than that which burned as deeply in my heart.

That fire ’twas led me on
And shone more bright than of the midday sun
To where He waited still
It was a place where no one else could come.

(Chorus)

Within my pounding heart
Which kept itself entirely for Him
He fell into His sleep
beneath the cedars all my love I gave.

From o’er the fortress walls
The wind would brush His hair against His brow
And with its smoother hand
caressed my every sense it would allow.

(Chorus)

I lost my self to Him
And laid my face upon my Lover’s breast
And care and grief grew dim
As in the morning’s mist became the light.
There they dimmed amongst the lilies fair.

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