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    Saturday
    May212016

    Pranayama: the Fourth Limb of Yoga

    In contemporary life, when most people hear the word they think of the physical poses and exercises of Vinyasa, the physical practice of Yoga. The physical poses and movements of Yoga, however, are only one part of Yoga, the total mind-body system first delineated by Maharishi Patanjali over a thousand years ago.

    Yoga, as a total system, has many components, many practices. There are practices that work with the conscious mind (inquiry, discrimination, study), practices that work with the emotions (pranayama and bhakti or devotion), practices that work with the awareness, that train the attention (mantra meditation) ethical practices (yama), behavioral practices (seva) and so on. All these practices are designed to work together to bring all parts of the person into alignment, into harmony, into well-being.

    Pranayama, the fourth limb of Yoga, is a series of practices designed to support emotional equanimity and well-being, beginning with breathing exercises that soothe restlessness and anxiety.

    The next set of practices take Pranayama to a deeper level, working directly with the emotions to harmonize and them, resolving the habitual negative emotions (fear, anger, sadness) that block the full expression of life and spirit. This is what Patanjali called "the harmonizing of polarities."

    On a more advanced level, Pranayama is a way of working directly and intentionally with the energy systems of the body (shaktipat),  systematically releasing (nirodhah) interference patterns (vritti)  that inhibit and limit the flow of life energies (chitta, prana)  throughout the entire mind/body system.

    We begin with the breathing. That's the first place to start. Soothe the breathing and the whole system comes more into alignment.

    As a side-note, anti-anxiety breathing exercises, like deep belly breathing, or Qigong practices like embryonic breathing or  the the breathing exercises of the Lamaze Method of prepared childbirth are western practices that work in the same or similar way as ancient Yoga techniques like ujjayi, nadi shuddhi and bastrika. Every culture seems to have found it's own version of pranayama.

    -----------------------------------------------------

    A couple of relevant quotes:

    "The elegant shapes and impressive contortions of the asanas may be the most eye-catching element of hatha yoga, but yoga masters will tell you they're hardly the point of practice. According to yoga philosophy, the postures are merely preludes to deeper states of meditation that lead us toward enlightenment, where our minds grow perfectly still and our lives grow infinitely big. But just how do we make the leap from Downward Dog to samadhi? Ancient yoga texts give us a clear answer: Breathe like a yogi.

    "Pranayama, the formal practice of controlling the breath, lies at the heart of yoga. It has a mysterious power to soothe and revitalize a tired body, a flagging spirit, or a wild mind. The ancient sages taught that prana, the vital force circulating through us, can be cultivated and channeled through a panoply of breathing exercises. In the process, the mind is calmed, rejuvenated, and uplifted. Pranayama serves as an important bridge between the outward, active practices of yoga--like asana--and the internal, surrendering practices that lead us into deeper states of meditation.

    "My first American yoga teacher, a guy named Brad Ramsey, used to say that doing an asana practice without a pranayama practice developed what he called the Baby Huey syndrome," says Ashtanga teacher Tim Miller. "Baby Huey was this big cartoon duck who was very strong but kind of stupid. He wore a diaper. Basically what Brad was trying to say was that asana will develop your body but pranayama will develop your mind."

    --Claudia Cummins, Prescriptions for Pranayama, Yoga Journal
    http://www.yogajournal.com/practice/673

    "Pranayama is derived fron two Sanskrit words - prana (life-energy) and ayama (control). Pranayama is therefore life control and not "breath control." The broadest meaning of the word prana is force of energy. In this sense, the universe is filled with prana; all creation is a manifestation of force, a play of force. Everything that was, is, or shall be, is nothing but the different modes of expression of the universal force. The universal prana is thus the Para-Prakriti (pure Nature), immanent energy or force which is derived from the infinite Spirit, and which permeates and sustains the universe."

    "Yoga works primarily with this energy in the body, through the science of Pranayama, or energy control. Prana means also "breath." Yoga teaches how, through breath control, to still the mind and attain higher states of awareness. The higher teaching of yoga take one beyond techniques, and show the yogi, or yoga practitioner, how to direct his or her concentration in such a way as not only to harmonize human with divine consciousness, but to merge his or her consciousness into the infinite."

    --Paramahansa Yogananda (1893 - 1952) Source: God Talks with Arjuna: The Bhagavad Gita

     ------------------------------------------------------------

     

    All of the “limbs” of Yoga — all of the precepts and practices of Yoga work together to bring all aspects of ourselves into harmony and alignment.

    Yama and Niyama support right understanding, right lifestyle. Asana and Vinyasa focus on the physical practice of yoga, working with the body to produce a stable physical platform. Pranayama, the fourth limb of yoga, works with the breath, and also with the mind and emotions to produce a state of equanimity, serenity amid loss or gain (samapatti). Pratyahara clarifies the relationship of the mind to experience, and helps us learn to manage the undue influences of the world around us.

    The practice of Yoga begins with an understanding which becomes a physical practice which becomes a mental and emotional practice which eventually becomes an energy practice, and all these levels of practice work toward reconciling the fundamental polarities of experience and existence.

    Energy work is about balancing polarities -- yin/yang, positive/negative, here/there, sadness/joy, self/other, tension/flow, and this is the ultimate focus of yoga. As the sutra says, the yogi is unperturbed by the play of opposites. All duality is reconciled in yoga.

    Pranayama, the fourth limb of Yoga, deals with energy beginning in the most obvious way: we work with the basic cycle of intake and outflow of breath -- and in harmonizing and balancing the breath, we "tune" the basic polarity of mind and body, inside and outside. Pratyahara, the next and fifth limb of yoga, has to do with removing the innappropriate influence of the outer world -- it lessens the intrusion of outer influences on us, and restores us to a balanced sense of subjectivity.

    The term "pranayama" is used in the Sutras to describe both the practice of pranayama (the process: breathing exercises) and the state of pranayama (the goal: balanced energies).

    The first three sutras, YS II:46, YS II:47, YS II:48 describe the prelimary conditions necessary for the successful practice of pranayama. The remaining four describe, in general terms, the practice of pranyama itself.

    First, one's asana, or physical foundation, must be steady and comfortable. The body should be made to be as comfortable and as steady as possible. The mind should be, again, as much as possible, one-pointed -- free of distraction and conflict. The emotional state should be one of calmness and well-being. The practice of Yama, Niyama, and Asana, all work together to produce this stable platform, allowing the yogi to begin the practice of yogic breathing with a sense of stability and well-being.

    Second, one needs to understand how to relax unceasingly -- physically, mentally and emotionally -- to continuously surrender all effort, all struggle, let go of and release all tension and strain. This is to be done until one is utterly relaxed and free from all sense of duality, all sense of struggle and effort. When we let go of all physical, then mental, then emotional tension and resistance, our sense of being expands. We "open up" and recover a profound sense of security and well being.

    Ahimsa, non-aggression, the first precept of Yoga, becomes our way of being -- in fact all of the yamas and niyamas begin to arise in us spontaneously.
    Then breathing becomes free and effortless, relaxed and comfortable. There is a sense of "breath taking place." The various types of pranayama, alternate nostril breathing for instance, allow us to focus on the breath in a gentle, natural ways, observing its movement in and out, becoming more aware of where the breathing takes place (abdomen or chest), the duration of the breath, and in the mind observing the breath in this way the breath naturally becomes more subtle, more peaceful, more extended.

    This, in turn, gives rise to a deeper, broader perspective, a spaciousness of mind: thoughts become more soft, subtle, less conflicted, less compelling. We grow calmer, unperturbable. And our sense of conflict, struggle is reduced greatly. With the calming of the mind, the barriers to the shining of awareness diminish, and consciousness expands.

    The mind grows steady, capable of focus and deliberate thought.

    For instructions on a basic form of Breath Pranayama, Nadi Shuddhi, click here:
    http://mindbodyfitness.suite101.com/article.cfm/nadi_shuddhi_pranayama

     From the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali:

    YS II.46 sthira-sukham-asanam
    (steady-comfortable-position)

    Asana is steady, comfortable.

    YS II.47 prayatna-saithilya-ananta-samapattibhyam
    (effort;tension)(relaxation;loosening)(endless)(coinciding)

    And unceasing relaxing of effort renders the arising of non-dual, comprehensive awareness.

    YS II.48 tato-dvandva-anabhighatah
    (thus)(two-two;opposites)(unassailability)

    As a result, one is unperturbed by the play of opposites.

    YS II.49 tasmin-sati-svasa-prasvasayor-gati-vicchedah-pranayamah
    (from this)(state)(breathing in and out)(flow)(cutting off)(energy-control)

    To abide in this state of unceasing flow, throughout inhalation and exhalation, (is the state of) pranayama.

    YS II.51 bahya-abhyantara-visaya-aksepi-caturthah
    (inner-outer)(object-subject)(fourth)

    (The sense of) outer/inner, subject/object is transcended. This is the fourth limb of yoga.

    YS II.52 tatah-ksiyate-prakasha-avanaram
    (thence)(decreases)(shining light)(covering)

    Thus, that which obscured the shining of inner awareness diminishes.

    YS II.53 dharanasu-ca-yogyata-manasah
    (concentration)(and)(fitness)(thinking ability)

    And the mind gains the capability of steady focus.

    And who wouldn't want that? A clear mind, a steady mind, a balanced mind that is able to focus. This is the gift, the benefit of the practice of pranayama.

    Wednesday
    May182016

    Healthy Relationships

    Tuesday
    May172016

    From the New York Times: Does the Body Reveal Secrets About Our Decisions?

    Sponsored by Oppenheimer Funds

    "If you had a penny for every saying about money, you’d be rich: “A fool and his money are soon parted” or “Health is better than wealth.” When it comes to making smart financial decisions, however, seldom are things so straightforward.

    Since we can’t tell the future, we make a best guess. But what information do we trust, which past experiences do we draw from and what instincts do we follow? And that’s to say nothing of the influences of which we may not even be aware.

    Starting in the 1970s, the field of behavioral economics began examining how humans make decisions based on actual behavior, rather than pure logic.

    Behavioral economists, psychologists, neuroscientists and others are researching the question of how we make decisions. Their studies show that we as humans — and investors — make decisions in many different ways. Very often these choices are not purely rational. Instead, they’re driven by intuition and biology. In an age where we’re learning more about our physiology through technology, we’re also learning how to make better decisions.

    Two Israeli psychologists, Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, began studying an approach to decision-making based on human behavior in the 1970s. First termed heuristics-and-biases, it would become the foundation of the field we know today as behavioral economics. In short, heuristics examine the rules of thumb we use to make decisions when information, time, or both, is scarce. These can often reveal cognitive flaws in human judgment, however.

    Behavioral economics was built on a method of decision making called decision analysis. This approach requires that each potential choice be thought through to its logical end. In other words, a pros and cons list. Take how we choose which apartment to rent, for example. It can be effective if the information is reliable, but it’s often time consuming. Worse, if the information is flawed — it turns out the lack of water pressure is the reason the rent is so cheap — the outcomes can be disastrous.

    The person doesn’t know why they have this feeling. Yet, this is strong enough to make an individual act on it.”

    What’s more, humans don’t always think completely rationally. Often we make decisions based on past experiences, analogies or basic instincts. Take the heuristic known as “the gambler’s fallacy,” that compels us to choose heads in a coin toss just because the last flip showed tails."

    read more on the website:

    http://nyti.ms/1skcTHW

     

    Tuesday
    May032016

    New Website: Meditation at Firefly

    Many thanks to Philip Racicot at Firefly Westwood for the beautiful new website he designed and built to support the meditation program we're doing there. You can see it here:

    www.meditationatfirefly.com

    Over the last year we've developed a program that provides instruction and support for a natural, enjoyable approach to meditation that takes the traditional mantra practice of Indian Yoga to a whole new level.

    Mantra isn't a sacred word; it isn't some magical formula. Mantra is a theme, an organizing principle that works on the level of thought, feeling and instinct, allowing mind, heart and body to align and harmonize as one system. Understanding mantra in this way, and getting clear and specific instruction and guidance as to how to use it most affectively, makes true Yoga meditation easily available to everyone.

    Meditation need not be difficult or uncomfortable. It shouldn't be a chore. Done properly, it becomes the most rewarding part of anyone's day -- a mini-vacation from the stresses and strains of everyday life.

    Feel free to join us, each and every Thursday evening. All are welcome.

    Wednesday
    Apr202016

    New Workshop: The Yoga of Love and Relationships

    This workshop is the first in our new series: Yoga Beyond the Mat, exploring how to use the understandings and practices of Yoga to strengthen, enrich and expand our experience of joy and satisfaction in everyday life.

    In this series, we'll explore the inner practices of Yoga, the concepts, tools, resources, perspectives and practices that bring out the beauty and power of the full teaching of Yoga, infusing body, heart and mind with peace, love and understanding.

    This workshop will focus mainly on the teachings of Heart-Centered Yoga on love and relationship, drawn directly from the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the Bhagavad Gita and Radiance Sutras, but also from the teachings of contemporary Yoga and Advaita masters.

    The workshop will include discussion, guided meditation and practical advice on how we can use these principles of Heart-Centered Yoga to expand our experience of love, closeness, compassion and mutual support in all our relationships, with a special focus on the most important relationship of all -- the one you have with yourself.

    Where: Firefly Yoga, 311 Washington St, Westwood, MA

    When: May 14,  1pm-4pm

    Cost $45

    You can sign up here: http://www.fireflyyogama.com/westwood-workshops/

    Wednesday
    Mar302016

    What is Yoga Meditation?

    (Newsletter from the Thursday Night Group)

    Hi Everyone,

    Thanks again to all of you who are supporting and participating the program. It's so good to sit in Satsang with you every week.

    So what is this meditation? Why do we do it? And why the ongoing practice?

    On the simplest level, meditation is setting aside intimate, quiet time with oneself, and it's using that time to bring all parts of yourself into alignment.

    We use a theme (a mantra) to align our thinking and feeling, our attitudes, understandings and perspectives so that all parts of us are operating without conflict, without stress, and all our activities reflect and support our actual purposes and values in life.

    It may sound complicated but It's actually a lot easier than most people think. Good technique makes all the difference. The real reason most people fail in meditation, or asana practice, isn't that it was too hard or they couldn't do it -- it's that they weren't given a good grounding in proper technique.

    In Yoga practice, technique is everything. Proper technique is what makes Yoga enjoyable and rewarding, safe and productive.

    Success in Mantra Meditation depends less on effort and more on skill and understanding. No amount of mental effort or determination will accomplish what good technique can do. That's why we spend so much time perfecting and clarifying our understanding of practice  -- so that we can get better results with less struggle, less difficulty.

    Done properly, meditation should leave you refreshed, restored, calm, rested and more aligned within yourself so that you can return to activity with a sense of clarity, purpose and capability. It should never feel like a struggle.

    Meditation in the traditional sense, in the Yoga tradition, is a heart-centered practice, not a head-centered one. Correct use of a mantra (think of it as an mental organizing principle that we use to bring all parts of us into harmony) allows a person to transcend the stress and busyness of conscious thought and tap into the deeper currents of feeling, presence and awareness, and this integration of heart and mind allows the inner resources of soul, self and purpose to infuse every part of our being, strengthening and supporting all of our intentions and activities in life.

    By strengthening and supporting your resolve, your sense of purpose and your resourcefulness, Yoga meditation supports your life on four different levels.
    Traditionally, these four parts of life are known as:

    - Dharma (alignment with and support from Nature and the environment)
    - Artha (enjoyment of physical and material security, success and comfort)
    - Kama (fulfillment of enjoyment, happiness and personal desire)
    - Moksha (liberation from all bondage and existential suffering).

    Improvement happens spontaneously in all four parts of life as a result of regular practice.

    The surface, thinking mind is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to utilizing our real capabilities, our full potential. Meditation that stays on the surface of the mind, on the level of monitoring, or practicing non-judgmental awareness may calm a person down, make them more detached, but it won't help a person be more motivated, inspired, resourceful or adaptive, the way Yoga meditation does. It won't enliven the four parts of life the way Yoga does.

    To truly transform the total person, meditation must involve what is called transcendence, diving deep into deeper resources of heart and mind -- where the power lies and the magic happens. Most of our intelligence (EQ and IQ), our creativity, motivational resources and social skills lie deep within, in the deeper parts of heart and mind, waiting to be tapped and utilized for our own benefit and the benefit of others.

    Yoga, and Yoga meditation is a natural, easy, enjoyable way to tap into and enjoy these inner resources.

    In this way we arrive at the totality of ourselves. In this way we begin to enjoy more of the fullness of life.

    Come join us this and every Thursday as we explore and refine our understanding of Yoga and meditation: 311 Washington Street, Westwood, 7:30pm.

    We'll mostly likely be continuing these weekly meetings until the end of May. Until then, the sessions are open to all, beginner and experienced meditator alike -- all levels of practice are welcomed and supported.

    Hope to see you there.

    love,

    Dennis

    339-502-0009
    www.dennisyoung.com


    Sent from my iPad

    Thursday
    Mar102016

    Q & A from the Thursday Night Meditation Group

    Hi  Everyone

    Great session last week. Thanks to everyone who participated.

    People were telling me afterwards that they enjoyed the meditation so much they didn't want to come out! It's always good to hear that. Meditation should be enjoyable. If it isn't, there's something lacking in your technique. Be sure to let me know if you're having difficulty and I'll help you get back on track.

    This week I thought I'd do a little Q & A. Here are the two questions I get asked most:

    Q. I've been practicing Vipassana Meditation (breath-awareness) for some time now. Can I combine this with the Mantra Meditation that I'm learning from you?

    The traditional Mantra Meditation we've been studying and practicing is a natural technique. It makes use of the natural tendency of the mind to seek well-being and release suffering, and it does it in a way that is completely effortless and natural -- no struggle, just simple innocence. This approach to meditation supports and enhances any other form of spiritual or self-development practice, the same way it supports and uplifts every aspect of the practitioner's daily life.

    The two practices in question, Vipassana and Mantra, have a common foundation. Both are based on a "centering practice," meaning they both follow a "1. focus -> 2. distraction happens -> 3. gently refocus" loop.

    Centering practice, that is, picking a focal point and then returning to it after being distracted is the preliminary "root" practice of all meditation. In Vipassana one uses the breath or "present moment" as the focal point; in Mantra we use a feeling/concept called mantra as the focal point.

    Here's where the two approaches differ more significantly:

    Vipassana and MBSR are flat or "horizontal" techniques, meaning one attempts to stay focused on the conscious, "present moment," surface level of mind with the aim of developing a state of non-judgmental awareness. Some people add an attitude of compassion or loving kindness towards self and others as well.

    Mantra Meditation begins at the same conscious level of mind, but instead of staying there and developing a sense of emotional detachment, proper Mantra practice allows the attention to go deeper, beyond conscious mind, awakening and aligning subtler dimensions of known, felt and intentional experience. Mantra is a "vertical" or depth technique, aimed at bringing about full integration of body, mind, heart and intention, arriving at wholeness, unity of the total person.

    The two approaches, the first derived from Buddhist practice and the latter, part of Classical Yoga practice are both called meditation. Both are based on centering practice, but each has different aims and different effects.

    The scientific research on both approaches bears this out as well.

    They are not incompatible. You can do both -- just not at the same time. Most people prefer mantra once they've tried it. It's easier to do and more enjoyable, and in the long run I believe it produces better results.

    Q. What can I do to get more from my practice and how can I maintain a regular practice? It's hard to find time to meditate every day, and my experiences aren't always good.

    1. Get ongoing instruction from a qualified and experienced instructor, whatever approach you choose. I can't emphasize this enough. It's true in physical yoga practice and it's true in meditation. No one can learn proper technique from a book or website, and no one can learn to meditate properly in one session. Learn proper technique (non-forcing; acceptance; non-comparison; self-referencing and non-clinging or surrender) and check with your instructor to be sure you're doing it right.

    2. Participate in group meditation sessions. There's nothing like the support of the group experience to strengthen and clarify your meditation. That's where the magic happens. Group practice is the rising tide that floats all boats.

    3. Be regular in your meditation. Meditate at least once a day, every day, sitting for at least 20 minutes. What works best for most people is choosing a meditation time before some other event you do every day: before you shower, or before breakfast, lunch or dinner. Commit to doing this for at least a month before trying to evaluate results.

    Your experiences will vary from day to day. This is normal, but at the first sight of struggle or discomfort, or if you find yourself confused, check with your teacher.

    Meditation, done correctly, should be easy, something you look forward to doing. If it isn't, you're probably trying to force things. If you have good technique, the experience should be steady and comfortable, just like in asana practice.

    If a teacher tells you to "feel the pain and do it anyway -- sit until the discomfort doesn't bother you anymore," find another teacher.

    And always remember: we evaluate our practice not just by the experience we're having while we're doing it, but more importantly, by the experience we're having during the day.

    I look forward to seeingyou at our Thursday Night Meditation, every Thursday for the next month or so, at 7:30pm311 Washington Street, Westwood. After that we'll be moving to a new format, enrolling a multi-session closed group. We'll still do open sessions from time to time, but less frequently.

    And good news! We just got a new shipment of additional Backjack seats so there should be plenty of comfortable seating for everyone.

    You can, if you wish, reserve your seat for this Thursday by booking in advance with Firefly on Mind/Body. That will make check-in easy and quick.

    Thanks and hope to see you soon!

    Much love, Dennis

    Dennis Young
    339.502-0009
    www.dennisyoung.com