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A Course in Mindfulness

With its roots in Buddhism, mindfulness is an art unto itself. The practice allows us to slow down and to enjoy our moment to moment pleasures as well as deal with those situations that arise in the moment without carrying them throughout the days ahead.

Mindfulness contributes to overall well-being, increases happiness and allows us to reduce worry. It reduces stress, is known to lower blood pressure and may aid in healing both physically and psychologically. Those who practice are less likely to be caught up in everyday worries, in preoccupations with the business of living and are more engaged in what is right in front of them.

This course is for you if:

  • You are feeling overwhelmed with all that needs to get done
  • You are feeling stress or anxiety
  • You want to engage more with life and loved ones
  • You want to improve your overall outlook
  • You want to learn mindfulness meditation
  • You want more control over emotions

You will learn more about:

  • Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy
  • Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction
  • Exercises to make mindfulness part of your everyday

This course will run for 8 weeks over Zoom – join from anywhere in the world – and will begin on Sunday May 26! We’ll choose the time as a group. The cost is $199 CDN. If you would like to register shoot me an email at reenadavis7@gmail.com or visit this link to join: Cultivated Thoughts

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Kleshas ~ The Cause of Suffering

Suffering is optional, it doesn’t feel that way and it’s a tough thing to wrap our heads around for sure, but optional none the less. According to yogis the reason that we suffer in life is the Kleshas. The five main kleshas are described below. They all have their root in seeing things not as they are, but as we perceive them to be. When we get lost in thinking that a situation will go on forever, or we actually hang onto a situation for longer than it has actually taken to occur. Not to say that when events happen we immediately let them go – that wouldn’t be healthy either as we need to process those events taking place that cause pain. But do we allow the pain to take a deep hold on us? To affect our every day? From a coaching perspective, looking at the events, truly feeling them and observing how they can be incorporated into our lives as experiences rather than as pain would be the objective to ensure that these situations don’t own us; don’t effect our day to day business of truly living.

Read about the kleshas and drop me a line: I’d love to know your thoughts!

Avidya: This is ignorance, although not in the conventional sense. The inability to see things as they really are is at the heart of this klesha, and is actually the root of the other four as well. When we believe that what is actually temporary will last forever we are affected by this klesha.

Asmita: Identification with ego, or rather an over-identification. We all identify with our egos to some extent. When that identification affects our ability to connect to our higher selves, though, we are affected by asmita. This influences how we see ourselves; we begin to believe that we are our jobs and our roles in life rather than recognizing that these are simply things we are doing. We are blessed beings in human form. As Deepak Chopra says, we are not so much human beings as we are being human.

Raga: Attachments are the cause of this form of suffering. When we are attached to the things that provide pleasure, we suffer when we cannot have those things. When we simply experience pleasure in the moment and let it go freely and willingly when the experience has ended we are able to maintain our equilibrium. We experience pleasure but core happiness is unaffected by giving it up.

Dvesha: This is the opposite of raga. It is the aversion to those things that are unpleasant. When we seek to avoid unpleasant experiences or are repulsed by them we are not able to fully live in the present moment; we allow fear and anxiety to affect our mental state. When something unpleasant is occurring we deal with it, but we do not live in the state of waiting for such experiences.

Abhinivesha: Fear of death is the final of the five kleshas. For some this fear is so strong that they do not really live; they are unable to fully enjoy the experiences of life because you are concerned with it ending. We will all die, that is a fact. And while we need to be aware that this life is temporary the focus does not need to be on its end. It is cliché perhaps, but we need to focus on the journey not the destination.
As we go through our lives we can work with the kleshas. Through meditation and mindfulness we become more aware that they are there and can look at how we are affected by each. We can work with our fears, attachments, and aversions and continually open our minds to new possibilities so we become less ignorant. Bit by bit the kleshas can diminish. They are part of our human experience, I don’t know that they can disappear completely; we must remember to practice compassion with ourselves and not judge our suffering as good or bad, but simply experience it.

When Life Catches Up To You

Do you sometimes find yourself putting off being sad or feeling uncomfortable feelings until it’s a more convenient time? I have done this, but the truth is, it simply festers in other ways. For some it comes out as anger, frustration for others, perhaps being completely overwhelmed with life for still others. When these sorts of irritations are coming up constantly it might be a good idea to take the time and dig in to what’s really going on.

Many, many moons ago when I was 17 I had a boyfriend who didn’t show up at a time he was supposed to. When he finally arrived about 3 hours past the appointed time, he asked me if I was angry. I told him, no, I wasn’t angry and explained to him that anger came from being hurt. He was a bit taken aback. Honestly, knowing me at that age, already an alcoholic and holding on to a great deal of anger, I’m quite surprised at the words that came out of my mouth that day. But there it was, a little 17 year old wisdom. When we’re angry, we’re often hurting or afraid.

Lately I’ve been irritable with my partner. Really irritable. I’ve been secretly harbouring all sorts of shameful thoughts (not the kind and loving thoughts that I prefer to practice in my every day). A lot has gone on lately. I had an income source end, started a new position (which is awesome!), been trying to build up my self-employed business (which is so slow and such hard work) and am facing the realization that my money is super tight right now. Oh yeah, plus my sister passed away last month. Thats the piece I’ve been sort of putting off. That’s the piece that I haven’t really dealt with yet. I keep saying I think I grieved her while she was here, because it was a long illness. But now she’s gone. And I’ve carried on (partly because I had to) as if nothing happened. I’ve been quite pragmatic about it. But every time my partner breathes wrong (I’m not even exaggerating) I feel personally assaulted. So I suppose it’s time. It’s time to do the work around my sister and what not having her in my life anymore means. It’s time to do the journaling around it, rather than stepping around it everyday as if stepping around a puddle on the ground. It’s time for contemplation and feeling all the feels. Step 1 will be meditation, step 2 journalling. And now I’m off to get started.

It's Spring and that means it's kapha season!

dosha elementsA dosha, put very simply, is a makeup of elements that are found in nature (ether, air, water, fire and earth). These elements are found in everyone as well as our food, the air around us, the exercise we do and more. The three doshas are:

  • Vata: made up of air and ether
  • Pitta: made up of fire and water
  • Kapha: made up of earth and water

Each season of the year is governed by an ayurvedic dosha. Winter is a time of vata – it tends to be dry, cold and dark. These are all aspects of vata. As we move into spring, we move into a time that is more wet and warmer. These are aspects of kapha. Ayurveda seeks to bring balance and that means when one element is at its high point, we offset with the opposite. Foods that are known to be kaphic are warm, heavier foods – think comfort foods. Stews, cooked vegetables, mashes etc. Because we now want to start balancing the kapha dosha we need to start eating the opposite of this – uncooked foods like salads, lighter foods – fruits, vegetables, grains, sweets like honey, spicy foods are good too. This is also a time of year that activities should become more vigorous. If you are a yogini, vinyasa or power yoga can be great in spring to get your energy moving. Think in terms of coming out if the hibernation of winter and getting yourself moving again.
Now, if you’re like me and live in a place where the spring equinox doesn’t necessarily line up with spring-like weather, you may need a couple more weeks of vata pacifying time. Keep eating your comfort foods, doing your restorative practices and keep yourself grounded. You’ll know when it’s time to give yourself a kick in the butt.
Do you know your dosha? You can take a quiz to find out here: The Chopra Center. Knowing your own dosha can help you to know when you need to be extra careful about balancing your elements based on the season or time of day.

Satisfaction Guaranteed

Let’s face it, there are no guarantees in life. So my title is a big ole lie! However, there are ways to make even the most unappealing tasks more meaningful. From a yoga perspective, karma yoga, or the yoga of action as it is referred to in the Bhagavad Gita*, is to do any task with full presence, full attention, with full effort. To do a task in this way is to lose yourself in it. In this same scripture, in a conversation between Krishna and Arjuna, Krishna says ‘you have a right to the work itself, not to its fruits’. What does that mean? That we think only of the task at hand and doing it with the utmost care to the best of our abilities. We don’t think about what it might do for us, but how we are giving. We don’t consider the end result, but the very task you are working on right now.

When we set goals we look to the end goal, but then we focus our attention on the steps it takes to get there. When we stay focused on the end, and don’t break it down into the little steps it takes to get there, we become overwhelmed at times . It feels too big. This is the same concept. We know where we are going, we are aware of the big picture, but we focus our attention to the task at hand.

Giving feels amazing. Think of those times that you have given to someone not with an attitude of what you will get in return, but simply to give. How the receiver felt, how you felt. I know for me, it’s sometimes as if my heart has actually swelled; my chest opens, I walk a bit taller, I feel lighter. There’s no mistake in that – we have lifted our energy, we vibrate at that higher frequency that we often seek out as spiritual beings. The same can happen in our everyday tasks. We are giving our attention, our abilities without consideration of the ‘get’.

When we work for the sake of a job well done without grinding through the day to make a paycheque, we achieve that higher frequency. We are taking our yoga off the mat. Our work becomes our meditation. Whether you’re balancing the books or cleaning toilets, this attitude of giving full attention will have the same effect. It will lighten the load so to speak.

*The Gita, as it is often referred to, is a scripture that is part of Mahabarata. This is a Hindu epic that has been part of yoga philosophy since the start. It is a conversation between Krishna and Arjuna as Arjuna comes to terms with fighting in a war. I’ve written quite extensively about it on this blog. Posts that start with “The yoga of” are part of my series on the Gita.

Living a Yogic Life

I recently received a beautiful gift of the Daily Greatness Yoga Journal. It’s a beautiful book (I have trouble writing in any book and especially one that’s so pretty so I need to work up to it lol). At the very front it ask you to make a commitment to a yoga lifestyle. You’re likely thinking ‘easy peasy- you’re a yoga teacher’ but I hesitated. To me, a yoga lifestyle is an enormous undertaking. To live it every day isn’t easy.

The 8 Limbs of Yoga

I know a lot of people have heard of the 8 limbs of yoga. I’ll add links to the limbs as I’ve written about them before in a deeper way, however living them all every day isn’t easy. It’s not for the feint of heart as they say. The practice of yoga asana – the poses that are seen in classes – is such a small piece of the yoga puzzle; the ancient teachings that guide us to enlightenment. Doing yoga and teaching yoga classes in the way done here in the western world just doesn’t cut it when considering a yoga lifestyle.

So what does cut it? Following, to the best of our abilities while knowing we won’t achieve at all times, all 8 limbs of yoga, along with their sub parts. This is essentially the way to delve into a moral, ethical life using self-discipline as well. The 8 Limbs as laid out by Patanjali, consist of:

  • Yama: This is the ethical standards that we live by. It’s essentially how we conduct ourselves on a day to day basis. Think “do unto others as you have have them do unto you”. There are 5 parts to the Yamas. Ahimsa (nonviolence), Satya (truthfulness), Asteya (non-stealing) Bramhacharya (abstaining).
  • Niyama: This is the restraints or self-discipline associated with yoga. This too has parts: Saucha (cleanliness), Santosha (contentment), Tapas (austerity), Svadhyaya (study of scripture and self), Isvara Pranidhana (surrender).
  • Asana is, again, the postures, the poses that we see in the usual classes.
  • Pranayama: This is breath control and mastering the breath to control emotions and mind.
  • Pratyahara is withdrawal of senses. It’s going inward to release the outside environment – meaning outside the mind. Its to detach from all external forces, including one’s own body.
  • Dharana is concentration. This is to master to mind itself. It’s to slow the mind to the point of a single mental object, sound or energetic centre in the body.
  • Dhyana is uninterrupted flow of concentration. It’s to hold that one point as described above in meditation. To build mental strength and stamina to keep this meditation up for longer and longer periods.
  • The 8th limb is Samadhi, which I actually wrote about in my last post. It is enlightenment.

This is not an easy path to follow. It’s riddled with downfalls and self-doubt and opportunities to fail. That said, it’s also a very valuable path that has been laid out to help us achieve enlightenment – the end goal, the goal of all other goals. It’s well worth trying and to incorporate into your lifestyle. So why did I hesitate? Because I momentarily forgot that I don’t need to be perfect; I simply need to aim myself in the direction and use loving-kindness and compassion for self when I fall off the path.

Christ Consciousness

I was recently asked if I could write a post on Christ Consciousness (thank you for the great idea Kate!) I immediately thought ‘what a great idea’ and started to research it more in depth. In yoga philosophy, we study the 8 limbed path written by Patanjali (Yamas or restraints, niyamas or self-discipline, asana or postures, pranayama or breathwork, pratyahara or withdrawal of senses, dharana or concentration, dhyana or meditation, and samadhi). Samadhi is the equivalent of Christ consciousness from the yogic perspective.

Samadhi is broken down to sam – together, a – toward, dhi – sometimes interpreted as to hold together, other times as simply perfect. It’s the state of disengaging from the senses, the body and simply being consciousness. To be consciousness is to be Christ. This is the final step in the 8 limbed path that can be achieved through the other 7. It is enlightenment.

Enlightenment, from this perspective, is the state when we live our true essence, that part of us that can not be seen, heard, touched, tasted or smelled. It is our very soul. When we are able to live from our soul rather than our ego, we simply are. We do not put on airs, we do not seek achievement for ourselves, we do not seek to be more than any other individual or any other living thing. We simply are. We recognize the true nature of life – that we are all one in terms of our energetic blueprint. Our energy is simply being held together by thought so that we can experience being human.

We practice being Christ consciousness through meditation for the most part. Activating the pineal gland, often referred to as the seat of Christ consciousness, is a most effective way. The pineal gland is activated through meditation at the Ajna or third eye chakra. This can be done by ‘gazing at the third eye’ (concentrating on that point while meditating) or by use of stones that can be placed on the area. Since the third eye chakra is said to be indigo (a purplish blue) stones such as amethyst which are purple can be used. Also Shungite is a great stone for this area. There are calcite micro crystals within the pineal gland that appear to be greatly affected by Shungite in terms of healing both physically and emotionally.

So, Christ consciousness is living as Jesus Christ once did, it is thinking and feeling in this way that takes into account all of life. Knowing that when we raise our own vibrations we bring all other life up as well. Many that come from a spiritual perspective practice raising their vibrations, not always while considering all of human kind, and all other life, however. To be honest, I’m not so sure that enlightenment is achievable while in a human body. I believe that we practice and we get closer and closer throughout our lives. To completely withdraw our senses and think of the entire living world in all of our deeds, however, is a pretty hefty goal. It is a worthy one, though, and through continuous practice we can continue to love and live in alignment with Christ consciousness in our hearts. That will lead us to a state of more loving kindness every day. It will lead us to think of others far more often. It will also lead us to forgiveness for ourselves when we don’t quite get there. We are all still living a human existence and perfection is out of reach for the most part. But less than perfect is still pretty damn good.

Balasana ~ Child’s Pose

krishna, universe, mouth, Yashoda, Balaram, yoga mythology, yoga philopsophy, spirituality, krishna images, krishna child image,  When Krishna was a child he was playing with his brother Balaram in the courtyard near his home. He took a scoop of earth in his hand and ate it. Balaram went running home to tell his mother, Yashoda. He told her “Krishna is eating dirt. He may choke on it”. Yashoda wasn’t surprised as Krishna was always getting into trouble. She grabbed Krishna and asked him if he’d been eating dirt. Krishna, his mouth and face covered in mud, replied that no he hadn’t eaten dirt. “Balaram is lying”, he told his mother. Of course Yashoda didn’t believe him. She told him to open his mouth. He did so but Yashoda didn’t see mud, instead she saw the entire universe and all of the galaxies.
Krishna’s family and their friends were vaguely aware of his divinity. But in order for Krishna to have a normal childhood with friends who were not in awe, and potentially scared, of his divinity, they allowed themselves to forget. This kind of forgetfulness is called lila. Similarly, the president of a country must forget his official role when he or she is playing with a grandchild. This is one of the paradoxes in yoga. First we must remember our divinity and then we must forget it in order to stay engaged in the world. It isn’t a complete forgetfulness though. We never lose our connection with our soul. We still remember that everything is in God and God is in everything.
Yoga is both very easy and very difficult. We simply must stop clinging to our ego. Yet this is one of the most difficult things we can do. The ultimate goal of yoga is to surrender to a higher power; surrender our ego in the sense that we are liberated from it while at the same time using the ego to function in the world. This surrender is symbolized through the pose balasana, child’s pose. Through surrender we open ourselves to receive and also to give. Balasana helps us to cultivate this quality of surrender.*
To take balasana, start on the hands and knees and then bring your hips down to your heels allowing the forehead to rest on the floor. Arms can either be stretched in front of the body or come back along side the body (there are other variations, but these are the two most common). knees can either be together or apart depending on your own comfort.

child's pose, balasana, balasana image, child's pose image, childs pose
Image from: http://www.havingmycake.com/2011/12/04/childs-pose-and-the-life-lesson/

childs pose, child's pose, balasana, balasan image, child's pose image
Image from: http://kimfischyoga.com/2010/08/childs-pose-warrior-4/

*Story as told in Myths of the Asanas by Alanna Kaivalya and Arjuna van der Kooij

The Warrior in You

Virabhadrasana (Warrior) I, II and III

Photo from

In Myths of the Asanas by Alanna Kaivalya & Arjuna van der Kooij, the mythology behind the warrior poses I, II and III is described quite poetically. I’ll give you the abbreviated version.
Sati was very much in love with Shiva and wanted to marry him. Shiva was not Sati’s father, Daksha’s, idea of good husband material, what with his dreadlocks, being covered in ash, his skimpy clothing, and generally wild ways. Sati married him anyway.
Daksha threw several grand parties and didn’t invite Shiva to any of them. Shiva barely noticed this, but it was very hurtful to Sati. The third time it happened she was so upset that she spontaneously combusted right in front of her father. Sati’s destruction was instantly felt by Shiva, who ripped one of his dreadlocks from his head and threw it to the ground. It was transformed into Virabhadra, the greatest warrior and rose out of the ground with arms stretched overhead (warrior I) in front of Daksha. Virabhadra drew a sword and extended it toward Daksha (Warrior II) and cut off his head. Virabhadra then reached forward (Warrior III) and placed the head on a stake.
As it is with Gods and Goddesses, Sati instantly reincarnated and scolded Shiva for killing her father, asking “do you really think this will make him accept you?” Shiva hadn’t really thought of that or how Sati would feel- he hadn’t really thought at all. Sati told him he had better fix it. Shiva saw that he could not reattach Daksha’s head, so he took the head of a goat and attached it to Daksha’s body. Daksha was so happy to be alive that he forgave Shiva and saw the error of his own ways in not accepting the man that his daughter loved.
The lesson? There are two lessons from this story. One is the lesson from Daksha. It isn’t always easy to be happy for someone. We need to get our own judgments and beliefs out of the way sometimes and just accept that another person is happy in whatever situation they’re in, no matter what we think.
The second lesson is from Shiva. It’s not easy being a warrior- especially one with a reactive mind. When we do react without thinking, there’s always an opportunity to make things right. We need to be brave and humble warriors to admit our mistakes and fix things.
Virabhadrasana II is done with a wide stance, open hips and arms extended over the legs. The shoulders relax away from the ears as if resting on a mantle. The quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes work to stabilize the hips and legs as the posture is held. Eventually the front thigh parallels the floor. Extend the spine upward even as you sink into the hips. Press the back foot into the floor and let your drishti, or gaze, fall over the front middle finger. Be a warrior.

The Final Goodbye

My sister passed away last night after many months of suffering through lung cancer that ended up taking over her body and finally reaching her brain. After the tumours were found in the brain she decided to make use of MAID (medically assisted in dying) to avoid more suffering and the increase in pain not only for her but for her family, her witnesses. She was so brave in this decision, so caring and compassionate for ‘her people’, which was how she lived. Over the course of her life, she struggled with fears like all of us do, but in the end she showed her true, authentic self. The final consent to end her life.

The days leading up to this felt surreal. Knowing exactly when someone will die is both a blessing and something else that I haven’t been able to identify just yet. It’s certainly not something many people experience. I can’t imagine what that was like for her. On my part, there was anxiety, sadness and a sense of relief that she would no longer be in pain. Right up until the end she found herself comforting others, her many nieces and nephews, her close friends and extended family. She brought people to her side and hugged them and comforted them as they sobbed on her shoulder. There was no holding things together for her anymore. It just wasn’t possible. Yesterday, though, she could no longer talk to anyone but her siblings and her husband who surrounded her as she made the final transition; all of our spouses sat outside the door after having received her final instructions that we were not privy too. I suspect it was along the lines of ‘take care of my sister’ sort of talk. Getting the last words in for sure, that was my sister.

Before the moment came she told us all to tell her a joke and when the best joke was told she would call it time. Not one of us was able to comply with that wish. In the end it was her that made the best joke. When the doctor asked if this was her decision alone she pointed at our oldest sister and said ‘it was her idea’.

And so her final transition from life to death, and possibly to rebirth in a stronger, healthier body, came amidst candles, flowers photos of all of her loved ones including her ‘yayas’- her best friends- and with her two children, her husband and all of her siblings sitting on he bed around her; loving her, grieving her and saying our last goodbyes. She lived well, she loved fiercely and she took no shit from anyone. Her final words after looking at each of us in turn were ‘what the fuck’. I choose to believe that was in response to something she saw that was beyond description in its beauty. She drifted to sleep and then was gone. A very peaceful, easy death.

After, my two remaining sisters and I along with her daughter, dressed her in the clothes that she wished to be wearing when she was cremated later this week. It felt quite ritualistic, a ceremony of strong women gathering to care for one of our own. It felt right. When the funeral home came to pick her up I answered the phone. I heard “it’s Jack from the funeral home” and thought to myself how odd it was that that sounded just like ‘our Jack’, our nephew who is finishing his studies to become a funeral director (sorry if I got that title wrong Jack). It turned out it was. He told no one that he had chosen to be part of this evening too. He came out for us, to ensure her proper care, to ensure that we all knew she would be taken care of until the end. She would be honoured to know that he did this for us. I know we were all comforted.

And now, once again in life, we adjust to our new way of living, where we are 4 instead of 5 siblings. All hoping to hell we aren’t last – making morbid jokes as we are known to do, thanks to the dark Irish humour we inherited from our mother. We carry on and hopefully honour our mother and now our sister with how we choose to live from this day on.