- Quality of Life & Wellness
Vishnu Mudra Benefits Wellness: Busy People Manage Stress and Find Life Balance with Yoga, Meditation and Mindfulness
Busy modern lives, lived in cities with pressured schedules and near-constant noise from traffic, conversations, and electronic media such as cellphones, TV, and ipods, create stress that weakens our health, reduces worker productivity, and diminishes the quality of our lives and relationships. It is easy to forget that even in the midst of this urban confusion, we are living our lives at the root of the mythical Mayan “Ceiba Del Mar,” the tree of life by the sea whose roots reach deep into the earth, and deep into the stillness at the heart our existence as spiritual beings in human form. The key is mindfulness, and mindfulness meditation can be learned. More and more people are discovering the benefits of ancient practices such as yoga and meditation, and their value in managing stress, reducing anxiety, increasing relaxation, promoting balance and healing, and supporting personal growth.
It is in the nature of the mind to create thoughts. As we begin to meditate, we are not trying to stop thinking nor fight the mind´s tendency to create a ceaseless stream of thoughts. Instead, we are cultivating the attitude of witness. We are training the mind to turn in on itself and watch its own process. We are learning to watch our thoughts as we would watch a movie, without getting caught up in them or allowing them to carry us away.
Cultivating a personal practice of meditation helps us live more fully here and now. With meditation we learn to ride the mind like a horse, instead of allowing the untrained mind to run wild, carrying us constantly into judgements of “I like…” or “I dislike…,” into plans or worries for the future, into memories from the past, or into fantasies and wishes about a present that does not exist.
With practice, we can experience how the surface chatter of the mind becomes quieter. When our eyes are open and we are going about our work and daily activities, our brain waves are also fast and short, measurable at about 14-30 cycles per second of the beta state. As soon as we close our eyes and still our bodies, the brain shifts to an alpha state of relaxation, measurable at about 8-13 cycles per second. As we move deeper into a state of meditation, the brainwaves measurably shift to a theta state (4-7 cycles per second) of deep, conscious relaxation, which most of us only experience briefly on the way to the delta state (1-3.5 cycles per second) of sleep. As the surface activity of the mind calms, we have access to deeper levels of our subconscious mind.
When we stay in this theta state without falling into sleep, the benefits of meditation become apparent. The activity of the two hemispheres of the brain becomes balanced; we reconnect with our inner self, the source of personal authenticity; we tap into sources of inner creativity; and we release hormones from the pituitary gland that break down the “fight or flight” hormones such as adrenalin that weaken our immune system and organs if we live in a constant state of nervous excitement and arousal caused by hectic lifestyles and stress.
In this way, meditation is a powerful tool for self healing. It brings a feeling of peace and harmony within ourselves and with the world outside that improves physical and mental health and helps manage stress.
Here are some simple meditation techniques that will help you calm your mind and develop concentration, which Sanskrit yoga texts call "dharana". This is the sixth of the eight limbs of yoga.
This is a form of Pranayma, or yogic breathing that balances and cleanses the body’s energy system.
Form the Chin Mudra with the left hand by touching the tip of the left index finger to the tip of the left thumb while keeping the remaining three fingers straight. Form the Vishnu Mudra with the right hand by keeping the right index and third fingers straight, bending the right fourth and baby fingers toward the palm, and touching the tip of the right thumb to the bottom corner of the right fourth nail. Inhale, then close the right nostril with the right thumb. Exhale to a count of eight through the left nostril, inhale to a count of four through the left nostril, hold the breath for a count of sixteen, by gently squeezing the fourth and fifth fingers and the thumb against the nostrils, then switch nostrils on the exhale and exhale through the right nostril for a count of eight. This is one half-round. Complete the round by inhaling through the right for a count of four, hold the breath for a count of sixteen, then exhale through the left nostril for a count of eight. Each time you exhale, switch nostrils. Each time you exhale through the left nostril, you have completed one round. Do five rounds to begin, and gradually increase the number of rounds.
Consciously relax the body part by part starting from the feet.
Sit comfortably in your chair or if you are comfortable, lie on your back on a yoga mat, feet apart, legs apart, arms apart from your body, palms facing up. Relax your feet. Relax your toes, your arches, your ankles. Relax your legs, your calves, your thighs, your hips, your buttocks. Relax your back and shoulders. Relax your belly, your chest, your throat. Relax your inner organs. Relax your intestines, your stomach, your liver, your kidneys, your lungs, your heart. Relax your jaw. Relax your arms, your wrists, your hands, your fingers. Relax your lips, your eyes, your ears, your forehead. Relax your mind. Move into inner stillness.
This method of conscious relaxation is often used at the end of yoga classes during Savasana, the Resting Pose. It works best if you record yourself giving the relaxation, then as you listen you can follow the cues. Click here if you want to order it on DVD at the end of my Gentle Yoga for Seniors and Beginners.
This is a technique of Pratyahara, or consciously withdrawing the mind from the world of the senses and bringing it within.
Close your eyes. Sit or lie in stillness. Relax your entire body. Feel your body heavy on the earth. Feel all the points of contact between your body and the earth. Feel the touch of your clothes on your body. Feel the cool breath entering your nostrils. Feel the warm breath leaving your nostrils. Feel your upper eyelid touching your lower lid. Feel the line of contact where your lips meet. Feel your heart beating.
Now keeping that awareness of feeling, start to listen. Allow your mind to circle through the sounds around and within you, never stopping on any one sound, not naming the sounds or reacting to them, just noticing and being aware, then moving on. Keep your awareness moving, rotating from sound to sound spiraling in from sounds farthest away to closest in. Hear the sound of traffic outside, hear the sound of passers by and workers outside the room. Hear the buzz of the lights; hear the movement of fans or air conditioning. Hear the water trickling as it falls. Keep your mind moving. Circle your awareness nearer. Hear the sound of your neighbours breathing. Hear the sound of your own breath. Hear the sound of your throat swallowing. Hear the beating of your heart. Picture the sound your blood makes as it presses past the valves in your veins. Hear the sound of the molecules forming and dissolving in biochemical processes as your body goes about its life functions.
Keep feeling; keep listening; move into inner stillness.
This method also works best if you record yourself saying the cues, then sit in meditation or relax on your back with your eyes closed and do the practice mentally as you listen to the cues. This is part of a powerful yoga practice called Yoga Nidra, or "yogic sleep." If you want to explore this further and experience the benefits, I recommend Swami Janakananda's Yoga Nidra CD.
Introduction to Yoga Nidra
Yoga Nidra Practice from the Bihar School
Silent meditation watching the body breathe
Watching the breath is a traditional point of focus in Buddhist and Zen meditation. Since the mind tends to wander, it is easy to go off into some line of thought and completely forget about the breath, only remembering it suddenly when awareness returns with a jerk and we see how absent-minded we have been for the past seconds, minutes or longer. For this reason, it is usually easier to practice in a group and with a teacher. If you find it hard to fit a meditation group into your busy, stressful schedule, you might look into joining an on-line group such as Meditation Village. It is also a worthwhile investment in your personal growth to free up 10 to 30 days and join a meditation retreat or a yoga vacation at an ashram. It is tremendous support for developing a practice to be surrounded day and night by a community of people who are devoting their lives to the cultivation of the inner life for the purpose of unfolding their spiritual potential.
Chanting mantras aloud
Om is the universal sound which yoga philosophy regards as the seed of all words. It comes from Sanskrit, which means "perfected" or "polished" in the ancient language of the Vedas, the Upanishads and the classical teachings of India. These mantras have been chanted for thousands of years and still are. Yoga masters such as Vishnu-devananda, Iyengar, and Yogananda write of the power of mantra to influence and purify the subtle energies of the mind and heal the body. Some common ones are:
- Sri Ram, Jaya Ram, Jaya Jaya Ram Om
Asato ma sat gamaya
Tamaso may jyotir gamaya
Mrityor ma amritam gamaya
(“Lead me from the Unreal to the Real
Lead me from Darkness to Light
Lead me from Death to Immortality.)
- Soham (I am That; I am One with all that is.”)
Asato Ma sat Gamaya with Ravi Shankar
Silent meditation reciting a mantra inwardly
It is not necessary to chant mantras aloud to harness their power to quiet the mind. B.K.S. Iyengar points out in his classic yoga text Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali that sound vibration is the subtlest and highest expression of nature and even our innermost unspoken thoughts create sound vibration. Consequently, the mantra does not need to be spoken aloud to be effective. Silent recitation of mantra while going about the business of daily life allows us to maintain inner stillness while remaining fully present in the task at hand.
Mindfulness in Daily Life
One of the greatest challenges of course is to bring this inner stillness from the meditation practice off the yoga mat or meditation cushion and into our daily lives so we can truly contribute to creating peace and kindness in the world instead of perpetuating fear and anger. To this end, mindfulness meditation in daily life is a key practice. As taught by teachers likeThich Nhat Hanh, Deepak Chopra, and Jon Kabat-Zin, this involves doing every act with loving kindness and compassion, in the attitude of service to humanity. Each time we see we have forgotten this, as we all do many times each day, and have reverted to old habits of temper or fear, mindfulness means recognizing that everyone and everything outside of us is an aspect of ourselves. In this way, every act of our lives becomes meditation, and we can truly experience the meaning of “Soham, I am One with all that is.”
Iyengar, B.K.S. Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali . Thorsons. London, 1996. 20
Mindfulness Meditation with Jon Kabat-Zin
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Lie on your back and relax with this experience of Yoga Nidra (yogic sleep)by a Swedish student of Sivananda.