Tag Archives: #yoga

Union Of Mind And Body

In India when I was growing up, corporal punishment was allowed (it is illegal now). I still remember the punishments where one had to stand up with both hands up – straight and other was to bend down and put your hands underneath your knees and touch your ears (Called as the Murga Position).

If you have never been subject to these punishments then you are lucky – these positions start as easy, but after a few minutes the pain is excruciating. Recently, I have been reading a lot about the significance of rituals/things that we Indians do, and I came across an article that described that the two punishments as the easiest way to get the blood going to your brain which is supposed to calm the person down. It makes absolute sense on why the punishments were devised in such a way.

Similarly, there is a reason why women wear bangles and men wear Kadas. In earlier days when joint families were common – all the women folk would stay behind in homes and men would go off to farm. And when a large number of people dwell together in a small space tension arises – the bangles were supposed to rub against your wrists so that the blood flow is active and it activates the energy nodes which keeps you calm, alert and aware. It was a natural way to ensure that the relationships in the house were kept cordial and joyful.

How is all this related to the Union of Mind and Body? If you do yoga then you know what I am talking about – Yoga is necessarily the union of body and mind. And the instance above give you a clear example of the connection between the physical and the mental.

If you do Surya Namaskar – it is supposed to help weak constiution and increase will power. The poses in the sequence activate specific nodes or energy centers which strengthen those qualities.

If you have a squeaky wheel you put in oil to make it move faster, similarly our body is a mechanism and if you know how to tweak it will run smoothly. All the rituals in India were targeted towards this, but with time we have lost them, or they have turned into superstitions which have lost their original purpose.

We are all human beings having a spiritual experience – in some ways this human body is a prison, a prison of our own making. And our deepest desire to break out the human predicament by realizing the union with one. By doing yoga or other activities that connect the mind and body your stay in this prison becomes easier and your body becomes ready to break out the prison.

Sadly, for a lot of us, we do not even realize that we are in prison. And for those of us who do realize it is a prison, we are happy if we get better food, a better cell but the ultimate freedom is when there is no prison. Only I can break myself out of this prison – I cannot do it for you, you have to do it for yourself – walk the path yourself.

What step will you take on this path?

Window Cleaning

Have you your tried to clean something which has been covered with grime and dirt? One single swipe of the finger will not do it – neither will one single swipe of a cloth. It takes time. First, you might have to let it soak in some liquid for hours and then clean it layer by layer. Now imagine – as you clean new dust settles in – it makes the task harder. Now you have to clean at a faster rate than the rate at which new dust settles. And until you get to a certain level of cleanliness, the world will look different to you. You will not be able to the see the world as it is but only through the filter of grime and dirt accumulated over ages.

Our minds are similar – we have accumulated all sorts of dust and grime over the years and some of it we pick up throughout the day without awareness. Unlike our bodies, we do not spend time cleaning our mind. What does this dust look like? For example, as you were driving to work somebody cut you off – you got annoyed and vowed not to let it happen again. Every time you drive now, you make sure that anybody who looks like he is going to cut you off- you are on it. With every thought, you are applying a layer of dust on your mind – dust that will prevent you from seeing the reality as it is (Maybe he has a sick child, a bad day, fight with a wife). We will never know the reason but our belief that he is out to get you is mostly inaccurate, and this is what constitutes the dust.

Light shining through glass privacy window. Abstract background

Let’s say you are listening or reading to the news – all the news about abuse, corruption leaves a not so pleasant taste in your mind and at the same time clouds your mind with its dust. The movies you watch, the conversations you have, people you hang out with – all leave a residue on your mind. And more you do it more it happens – mostly unaware because we believe that we are not actively participating in it, but your mind is always active.

All this dirt and grime in our mind is what constitutes to ignorance and makes us believe we are separate from one another. My main aim in life is to be a better version of myself every day – clean this dirt thoroughly – turn my mind into a surface where dust is unable to stick. Only when we wipe the dirt in our mind does wisdom arise. One of the ways to gain wisdom is to get rid of ignorance. And that means cleaning the windows so that you can at least get a small patch of light through which shows you a glimpse of what the real world looks like.

We are starting with so many accumulated layers of dust that it is in some ways a miracle that we all humans live and function despite all the dirt clouding our judgment. The first step towards a clear mind is awareness – know that you have filters on and if it calls to you then immerse yourself in a good spiritual book, do yoga or meditate.

Most importantly recognize that there is a layer of dust!

Viriya – Effort

This blog follows the last one where I talk about the different ways in which we can accept or not accept other’s judgements/opinions.

In this blog I am going to talk about how to increase the “effort” factor in implementing the different ways. Before we get started let me explain what I mean by “effort – viriya”. If you recall in one of my blogs I talk about the Ten Perfections (Paramis)

Viriya: Energy
May I be energetic, vigorous and persevering.
May I strive diligently until I achieve my goal.
May I be fearless in facing dangers and courageously surmount all obstacles.
May I be able to serve others to the best of my ability.

Viriya in simple terms means Energy, that’s it. Pure and simple energy. Every time somebody tries to impose/project their own imperfections/shortcomings onto you, you need effort to not accept those gifts. You can always apply more effort until you reach the final stage.

There are many ways to work on developing Viriya. First of all you can do it anytime – literally anytime. Let’s say you are driving to work and your mind is busy as usual passing opinions. Every time you bring your awareness to sensations to breathing instead of the opinions you are increasing the effort factor – every little bit counts. Imagine how easy it is to do this. And every time you do this your effort factor increases.

Secondly, every time you interact with someone and they are gossiping or doing unwholesome deeds (to the extent you can determine this) then observe your sensations – re-double your efforts.

Thirdly, you can always use physical activity to train your mind – this might be helpful in the beginning stages. For example, if you run or if you swim then do that extra 5 minutes or the extra lap. Every time you do this you are working on the muscle.

This is a little different from will power because the desire to increase the effort has to come from within. Until then try to light the flame of effort. Once it’s lit then it will be hard to put out.

And another thing to keep in mind is that what matter is the right kind of effort – which in Vipassana means being aware of your sensations in everything that you do. If you are sitting/standing/sleeping or as you go about your daily activities be aware of sensations. These has the double advantage of a) working on your effort/sensations b) mindfulness in your day-today work.

A big part of this practice is to know whether you are tuned up or not. And this comes by practice. Let’s say there are a few drops of water on table and you use a cloth and it absorbs all the water. Let’s say there is a glass of water and you use the same cloth to soak it all up – it won’t work. It is s continuous cycle as your cloth grows the more water you can absorb. The more water you can absorb the more the cloth will grow until there is no water/cloth.

Similarly the effort factor will increase every time you use it, the more you use it the more effort factor will be until there is just you.

Mind Over Matter – how much can you stretch?

It was summertime and I remember very vividly that my dad who is usually very fit kept sleeping for an entire weekend – non-stop. He had just made a trip to Delhi or some other city for business and when he came back all he did was sleep. His clothes had a slightly yellowish tinge – anyways they did go to the doctor. Doctor did a few tests and told him that he had jaundice but it’s on the decline now. The worst was over. So his Jaundice was at the peak during his business trip but it didn’t affect him at all.

If you are wondering why I am telling you this incident then here it is – Mind Over Matter. I believe that my Dad is one of the few people I know who are very good at mind over matter. What does it really mean?

In my dad’s case he willed his body to believe that it was all good – one can argue that he slept the whole weekend but you get the point. Basically what this is saying is that your body can withstand anything it’s your mind that you have to convince. There are scientific studies which prove this as well – let’s say you flip a coin 20 times what are the chances of heads/tails – 50% right? However, there was an experiment done where they had participants who willed a certain outcome like either heads and tails and the probability was not 50%. Check out this article for more details. If it could be done for coin flip experiment – imagine what we could all do if we ALL set our minds to it. Another famous example is the DC crime rate which started dropping when a meditation project was started and then started increasing when the project was disbanded – read about it here.

Our faith can move mountains. All we have to do is to believe.

The question is – If there is so much evidence that meditation/focusing your mind on an object is so powerful then how come most of the people don’t do it? Why is that each and every one of is not drawn to meditation?
The only answer that I can come up with is – when the student is ready , teacher will be ready otherwise even if you read about it, even if you see it, you are still blocked to it – you will not see it really. But it doesn’t mean we don’t try.

And then there’s a flip side to it too – you can only push yourself so much. It’s like different rubber bands can be stretched only to certain points before they break – so you have to find out your breaking point and work on it to increase its elasticity if you are so interested and called to do so!

It also comes back to my favorite quote – its all in me – all in the mind. Everything that happens to us, including the angry boss, difficult stakeholders, great pets, lovely spouses is all within our mind even the so called external circumstances like political situation/global warming all of them – they are all creations of our mind and most of us are ignorant of what our minds are creating.

But nobody said it better than the Mysore style Ashtanga teacher Pattabhi Jois – it’s true even in yoga.

We are all in Prison

Raymond Fiest, one of my favorite fantasy authors writes in his book, “The Magician”

we are the architect of our own prison

What does he mean by that? Let me tell you a story.

A rich couple are blessed with a baby boy after several years of marriage. They bring the boy up and groom him to be a business man so that he can take over his dad’s business. Twenty five years of father’s life have gone in building the dream that his son will carry on his legacy. You can imagine the dismay when his son announces that he wants to be a farmer and not a business man like his father. The father tells his son, “You have made me very unhappy.”

QUESTION: How many of you think he is right? That the son is responsible for his father’s unhappiness.

Here’s a tip: All that the son did was tell his father that he was going to be a farmer. The father had the choice to be happy or unhappy. And he made the choice to be unhappy. That was the prison he created for himself. He not only made himself unhappy but refused to take ownership for that as well.

Imagine how many times in our life we refuse to take the ownership of our own choices. In fact some of us live under the delusion that the external circumstances have made our life miserable and not us. We are not even aware of our own choice.

For example, I remember telling my dad that I was probably going to hate Columbus after London. And my dad in his practical fashion, responded, “You can hate Columbus all you want, Columbus doesn’t care.”

You don’t get the promotion you want, your spouse divorces you or your kids take to marijuana or somebody you don’t like became the head of your office/country – you make a choice to be happy or unhappy.

It’s ok to make either choice – even if you decide to be unhappy about it – do it knowing that it’s your choice nobody’s making you unhappy. Own the decision. That’s the first step – it’s harder to accept the decision as the best thing that can ever happen to you though. Difficult but not impossible – practice does make everything perfect.

Let’s take the prison theory to next level. This gets a little into the spiritual realm more so than usual. Even when we own our choice or decide to be happy about it all that we are doing is getting better food – in the prison. In the human predicament we are all already in the prison we are just moving to a better one. It is very hard to explain such things in words because words are not enough.

My favorite quote comes to mind,

“In this plane there is no answer and outside the plane there is nobody to ask the question.”

However, in his book UnTethered Soul, Michael singer provides a great description of what I am trying to say. Imagine space/vaccuum in which things are floating like Cars/your ideal job/ your partner/ your savings account etc. The minute your mind focuses on the car , it becomes a block and many such blocks build the prison. It’s all an illusion but we have forgotten that we are actors and are convinced that this is the reality.

How do we get out of the prison? All paths lead to Rome. If this article has planted a seed in you then nurture it, watch for it – if you are drawn towards painting/writing/aerobics or something that you always wanted to do as a kid. Go for it, it might open the door that may be your path out of the prison. For those of us who meditate or do yoga – when we breathe or we are focused on sensations at that moment there is no thought – in that moment we are free
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