Music! Moby’s 4 hour yoga & meditation album

Moby’s 4 hour album has been out for awhile, but I wanted to cook it in my practice for a couple weeks before saying anything about it.

First, it’s an ambient album, so it was best on days I wanted to be really focused (sorry Drake, Views is great but my booty needs a break). It doesn’t have a sweet beat or an energy building flow, which means I used it to work on my alignment and pay attention to energetic lines and breath rather than to let creative movement flow.

Second, even though it’s good background music, I didn’t like it for meditation. It didn’t add to my mindfulness-based practice, and it didn’t take anything away either. I prefer to listen to the sounds around me or do a guided meditation session.

Overall, I recommend that you give his album a try (it’s free to download from the link above). It’s great for introspective or technical days and provides a seamless quality to your personal practice, especially if you want to study-jam for a couple hours.

Today = possibilities

“What day is it?”
“It’s today,” squeaked Piglet.
“My favorite day,” said Pooh.

— A.A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh

Winnie-the-Pooh’s got wisdom. (See Tao of PoohTe of Piglet)

We’ve made it to our last big stop  in our round-the-world adventure: Asilah, Morocco. Here we’ll stay for a month, at the edge of North Africa in a quiet artistic town with a fusion of Arab, French, and Spanish culture. It’s a good place to reflect.

What did I learn on this trip? (So many things.) What I’m most grateful for is…gratefulness. Because this trip was not perfect. I’m not perfect. But now I can appreciate the imperfections because they give life texture. And no matter where I am in the world, Today means Time. And Time means Opportunity to do-something-see-something-make-something.

That’s a pretty good deal.

Meditation affects your brain’s age

Here’s an interesting article about a recent study done at UCLA School of Medicine’s Department of Neurology. I’ll let you read the article for all the juicy details, but they found that long term meditation makes your brain look younger structurally. For long term meditators, every year past age 50 shows an additional 1 year and 22 days “off” of their brain age. Now, the results of the study don’t show how long someone needs to meditate to achieve these effects, nor does it show whether these structural changes translate to changes in behavior or cognition.

In my personal experience, meditation has helped me slow down and be present. I would even say that I’ve learned so much appreciation for the present that it influenced my decision to take this one year round-the-world trip!


Image Credit: Maria Kazanova

Look ma! It’s my ego (again)

“When we start deceiving ourselves into thinking not that we want something or need something … but that it is a moral imperative that we have it, then is when we join the fashionable madmen.”

— Joan  Didion

Training for Vipassana

I am doing my first Vipassana (silent meditation) retreat this January! I’ll be at the Dhamma Simanta retreat center in Lamphun, Thailand for 10 days to practice this ancient form of meditation passed down from the Buddha. It’s a pretty intense schedule: 4 am wake up and 10 hours of meditation a day. Silence is part of the practice, so that means no talking to co-meditators. Furthermore, no reading or writing, much less surfing the web. Phew. Dress code is loose, comfortable clothing and light meals and accommodation are provided. Oh, and it’s free!

But far from a free vacation, I’m looking forward to this time of deep reflection. I mean, there will literally be no distractions. No alcohol, drugs, sex, or even exercise beyond taking a stroll on the grounds.

I started training for the retreat this morning by meditating for 45 minutes, a good 20 minutes than my usual. It wasn’t that bad. Actually, knowing I’d be in it for awhile allowed me to relax into it and not think about whether I was getting close to finishing. Confidence boosted 🙂

I’d been pretty terrified of the idea of being stuck with my thoughts nonstop for 10 days, but as the days draw closer the fear is not so daunting and there’s excitement and hope for the experience that I’ll have.

 

 

Vietnam Part I: Hanoi, Ha Long Bay, and yoga (Re)gains

BAM. M and I have just finished our first month away from the US, two months of traveling total. In the past couple weeks, I’ve started feeling at ease in the groundlessness of traveling and being on the move. I realized that I was neglecting my yoga practice (noooooooooooooooooo) and not making enough time to pursue things that were important to me. I made these changes:

1. Daily asana practice first thing in the morning. Right now I’m working on core strengthening, and I’ve got my eye on parsvabakasana (side crow) next.

2. Reading more. I’m currently reading Pema Chodron’s Things Fall Apart, which is a great read for those feelings of transition or uncertainty. Also, I’ve been reading more yoga articles to get ideas on sequencing, brush up on anatomy, and stay connected to the rhythm of the yoga world.

3. Learning Italian and anatomy/physiology. Technology is a great thing. I’m using the  Memrise app to learn both subjects. It takes about 15-20 minutes each day, and it’s great to stick to a routine and challenge my brain to learn something new. Hopefully I’ll be able to communicate with the locals when we reach Italy, our final destination, and have some background anatomy knowledge when I apply to a physical therapy program next spring.

4. Connecting. With myself via meditation and with others via yoga and mini trips we take.

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Yoga gains are kinda like gains in weightlifting. I needed to change my workout to suit my new lifestyle and stay engaged. Mind/body/soul. What I did in the US wasn’t working for me on the road, so I started engaging my brain by reading and giving it more to chew on. I engaged my soul with some reading, journaling, photography and meditation. And I engaged my body by working out the muscles I wasn’t using as much. My goal is to check in with my mind/body/soul workout regularly and change it up to stay challenged.

Hanoi and Ha Long Bay are beautiful in very different ways. Hanoi is fascinating for its non-stop river of traffic (seriously, you just need to take a breath and go for it), its intimate relationship with making food (from killing the animal to serving it on a plate, you can see it all on the street), and its culture of pushing the limits (rules are made to be broken). It can be loud and overwhelming after awhile, but there’s so much to explore.

Ha Long Bay is big and breathtaking. We were there for three days and everything we did, kayaking, swimming, spelunking, climbing, even eating, was surrounded by amazing views. If you have the chance to go, I highly recommend at least two nights on a boat. Our full day exploring the bay was relaxing and there were no crowds. I was able to get the feeling of the place without distractions.

We took photos and videos of kayaking and swimming with our GoPro too. We’ll see how those turned out!

 

On Stillness

Imagine a spinning top. Stillness is like a perfectly centered top, spinning so fast it appears motionless. It appears this way not because it isn’t moving, but because it’s spinning at full speed.

Stillness is not the absence or negation of energy, life, or movement. Stillness is dynamic. It is unconflicted movement, life in harmony with itself, skill in action. It can be experienced whenever there is total, uninhibited, unconflicted participation in the moment you are in — when you are wholeheartedly present with whatever you’re doing.

– Erich Schiffmann, Yoga: The Spirit and  Practice of Moving into Stillness

This morning, I meditated in my hosts’ garden. It is filled with trees, flowers, fruit, and herbs, and butterflies and hummingbirds often come to visit. As I closed my eyes and began to listen to my breath, I also heard, smelled, and felt the alive-ness of my surroundings. The soft grass and uneven dirt underneath my feet, the smell of the flora around me, the hum of a hummingbird’s wings (so I imagine with closed eyes), the gentle fullness of a summer breeze grazing me as I sat. I felt at peace and at ease.

Afterwards, I sat on the patio overlooking their garden and read those words above. It’s been awhile seen I’ve seen or even thought of a spinning top — is there an app for that? — and I’d never thought of stillness that way. Stillness to me was the calm surface of a lake or the quiet of the deep ocean. But Erich’s words resonate. Because after all, doesn’t a lake, pond or ocean always have little waves, no matter how calm the winds? Doesn’t the deep sea move in a conveyor belt fashion and transport nutrients to the upper layers? In fact, a big misconception of meditation is that you’re supposed to empty the mind, quiet it of all thoughts. Good luck with that! Meditation is actually the practice of allowing thoughts to pass through, letting go of the holding-on of these thoughts and the feelings that follow. Meditation is about checking in with your internal weather and allowing that weather to exist.

And so it is with yoga asana. I do the same poses over and over again to practice being in the moment, letting go of judgments or assessments and honoring how my body is feeling that day. I practice being uninhibited, unconflicted and fully present in what I’m doing. I get better at it each time I try.

I’m intrigued, Erich. What else will your words teach me?

Art! Fauna & Flora

Lauren Matsumoto of Brooklyn, NY created this series titled “Flora & Fauna”, an entwinement of flowers, birds, and everyday man-made objects.

This series stuck out to me because now that I’ve finished my yoga teacher training program, I’ve been feeling bits of trepidation and excitement as I ponder what comes next. How will I intertwine what I’ve learned into my practice and my classes? How will I continue to grow and follow my dharma (purpose), and connect with students and teachers along the way?

Yoga means union. Joining together the nature, spirit, soul that we were born in with the objects that we created to find a balance. To become fully present in this world, that we were created by and that we create in. To be!


Image credit: Lauren Matsumoto

Happy Spring! Outdoor meditation

My partner and I are dogsitting this week! We both love puppies but due to our frequent travel and upcoming round-the-world trip, we do not own a dog now. So the last day and a half that she’s been here has been amazing! It’s wonderful to be around the warmth and positive energy of a dog, even if she does open your fridge and eat two chicken breasts while you’re out watching Captain America 😉

This morning, I took advantage of the outdoors as the pup and I were walking through the park . I spied a bench underneath the shade of a sycamore tree, and I made my way towards it, my furry companion sniffing and trotting happily beside me. After I secured her to the bench, I sat down and closed my eyes and began my meditation practice.

I started with nadi shodana, or alternate nostril breathing. This helps slow my breath down and my thoughts so that I can focus and hear my True Self. This was my first time meditating outside, and I felt a little self conscious: do I look weird? Will the dog bark or eat something she shouldn’t or try to tug away?

After I finished my breath work, I let my hands sit gently in my lap and continued into meditation. Currently, I’m practicing Merging Breath meditation: focusing on the pause between exhale and inhale, which represents the stillness that’s always there in our Selves. Though my thoughts were jumping around more than they would have if I was in my usual spot, I enjoyed the quiet and the sounds of birds chirping, the water splashing in the fountain nearby, the sound of the dog sniffing intently her surroundings. It was also nice to feel the gentle breeze and enjoy the scent of grass floating by. Most importantly, I wasn’t judging myself for having more thoughts and being more distracted (I admit, I peeked open my right eye to make sure the dog was still there).

I think the pup got something out of it too. This is her after we returned home:

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Are you attached to your yoga practice?

A few days ago I was working on my asana flashcards for yoga teacher training, and I realized it was almost time for meditation class. I was in a good work flow: I was feeling the music, knocking out the flashcards and feeling accomplished. But I felt the obligation of meditation pulling me. I didn’t want to go. But I felt guilty for not wanting to go.

Meditation is good for you. Asana practice is good for you. More of a good thing is always better, right?

I realized that I was feeling attached to my yoga practice. I was attached to the idea that more yoga would make me a better yogi. And that didn’t feel right. So I thought about it and realized…Saying no to asana or meditation is yoga too! Because yoga is about balance, self-awareness, and vairagya (non-attachment). Rather than following a set routine no matter what my situation or condition is, changing the routine based on what’s going on today allows me to live my life more fully and more true to myself.

So I skipped meditation practice that day, and enjoyed accomplishing my task at hand. No regrets 🙂