Archive for December, 2014

Pranayama – Alternate Nostril Breathing

Written by Heal Your Heart on . Posted in Breathing/Pranayama

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The following is from Advanced Yoga Practices and describes the procedure and benefits of alternate nostril breathing:

Alternate nostril breathing is one of the most basic breathing techniques, and is usually the first breathing method taught to beginning students in yoga classes. These days it is also taught by mental health professionals due to its calming influence on the nervous system. Alternate nostril breathing is done by breathing slowly out and then in with one nostril blocked by the thumb of one hand, and then slowly out and in with the other nostril blocked by the middle finger of the same hand. That is all there is to it. It is a well-known practice that brings almost immediate relaxation.

The calming effects of alternate nostril breathing come primarily from a reduction of the breath rate by using one nostril at a time – restraint of breath.

There is a great natural principle at work here. It is why pranayama is so effective for cultivating the nervous system. “Pranayama” means “restraint of the life force.” When we restrain the life force in a simple unforced way, something is created. The gentle restraint of breath creates a biological vacuum effect, a small suction on the life force in us. The body must deal with this gentle deficit of life force in some way. It does so by pulling from the vast storehouse of prana within the body, and this prana flows out from deep within the nervous system. This is a new dynamic in the nervous system, and the outflow of prana from within plays on the nerves with a great loosening and purifying effect. This process is at the heart of all the effects that come up from pranayama. Right behind the flow of prana coming up in pranayama is the bounteous flow of pure bliss consciousness, assuming we are practicing our meditation every day.

We are all familiar with the benefits of applying the principle of restraint in various areas of our life. If we gently restrain what seems to be our immediate need, we invariably benefit in some way. This is particularly true if we have been overdoing in terms of fulfilling our perceived needs, as we are prone to do in our consumption-oriented western lifestyle. There is great wisdom in the saying, “Moderation in all things.”

A very simple and obvious example is eating. If we gently restrain our food intake, we begin to burn the fat in our body to replace the reduction in food intake. This has an overall purifying effect in the body, and will improve our health as long as we don’t take the process to an extreme and become anorexic.

The principle of restraint operates in many areas of life. If we restrain our spending, even a little, we find that we have more money. If we lose our job, which is not always perceived as a positive event, very often we end up in a better one. Life has a way of compensating for whatever is restrained, often with something better. There is no doubt that if we moderate our excesses, we find more in life. In many areas of life, we find that less is more. This principle is also operating in meditation. As we easily favor the mantra, we are gently restraining the endless streams of thoughts that we are almost always immersed in. In meditation, we create a state in the mind where the attention is not focused on meaning. Yet, we are keeping the mind active with the mantra. We have not put the mind to sleep. So, with less opportunity for attention to cling to meaning there is a kind of vacuum created in the mind. What happens? Well, you know what. The attention goes to quieter and quieter levels, until the mind becomes completely still in the great silent expanse of pure bliss consciousness. By gently restraining the flow of mind, we create a vacuum that draws pure bliss consciousness into us.

It has been said, “Nature abhors a vacuum, and rushes to fill it.” It is true. Much of yoga is based on the application of this principle to stimulate the human nervous system to a higher level of functioning and experience. We are not usually inclined to voluntarily restrain things that we consider basic to our existence. Yet, if we understand the principle of compensation that is operating everywhere, we will find opportunities to move forward in our lives with greater skill. Pranayama is one shining example of the application of this principle. As you will see, pranayama reaches far into the essence of what we are, and plays a major role in pulling us out, enabling us to become ecstatically radiant.

Picture source: holisticvanity.ca

Stillness in Action: NEEV Public School

Written by Matt Bartlett on . Posted in Charity of the Month

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For this month’s Stillness in Action charitable donation, we are donating to and highlighting the work of the NEEV school in India. The NEEV Public School was founded in 2006 in Jharkand, India, with the aim of providing a good quality, ICSE-based English education to underprivileged sections of the society at an affordable cost. The school has been helping kids in rural areas by providing them with a holistic education that nurtures their body, mind, soul and spirit. NEEV seeks to create a nurturing environment where children can go to learn, while also discovering their unique aim and purpose in life.

In the U.S. many take for granted access to public schooling and the educational resources that are available to our children. These resources are not readily available in many parts of the world. In Jharkhand the situation with respect to education is grim, particularly with respect to females. In the East Singhbhum district where NEEV operates, the average literacy rate for girls is a mere 47%. By donating to the school or sponsoring a student, you are helping to create a once in a lifetime opportunity for these children to come out of the degrading circle of poverty and illiteracy, which will not only impact their lives, but the lives of generations to come. When we invest in the future of children, we are investing in the future of the world.

The school itself is only sustainable with sponsorships and donations. If you feel so moved, we encourage you to contribute along side of us to this worthy cause.

Dasha Mahavidya – Dhumavati

Written by Heal Your Heart on . Posted in Tantric Practices

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She is fearfully unattractive. Some might even call her ugly or abominable. Uncouth and dirty, her skin is of a smoky hue and she wears no ornaments. Her limbs are bony and long, she has gaps in her rotting teeth, her hair is disheveled. She wears the attire of a widow, her once-white robe filthy and flung uncaringly over her thin frame. Her eyes are haunting and she bears a grain sorting winnow in one hand while the other is formed in a boon-bestowing mudra. She rides alone on a horseless cart with a crow as her banner.

Such is the fearsome and disgust-evoking iconography of Dhumavati, the seventh of the Mahavidyas. Possibly the most misunderstood of them all, She is feared or worshiped for attaining siddhis in left-hand tantra. Except for a handful of temples, She is not worshiped in common culture being considered “Alakshmi” (the opposite of Lakshmi who stands for abundance and goodness). Yet, Dhumavati reigns supreme when understood in the right context and especially when known experientially. Very simply, She represents the Non-Being that is eternal and both prior to Being as well as what remains after Being comes to an end.

The beauty of the Mahavidyas is that each of them represents two sides of the coin of various aspects of wisdom – the positive and the negative. Thus, Chinnamasta represents both the separation of Creation from the Creator as well as the end of that separation. Bhairavi represents fear as well as its dissolution. Sundari represents the transcendence of the Creator from His Creation as well as His immanent presence in Creation as itself. Similarly, Dhumavati represents the darkness of ignorance as well as that of its potentiality as wisdom, just as the potentiality of a tree is present in its seed. This is one aspect where Tantra differs from Yoga and Vedanta – Tantra is not merely about transcending our limitations but about embracing them. In this intimate embrace and allowing of our negativities, that which we desperately push away and resist becomes transformed. Tantra is inner alchemy, the conversion of all that is unwanted and impure in us to pure gold. Yet, this alchemy is not one of efforting and manipulation but that of complete surrender. 

On a cosmic level, it is said that Being (Creation) arises out of Non-Being. It is hard to imagine Non-Being, because it is outside of the scope of time and space which form the basis for mental understanding. The birth of Being from Non-Being is represented by Chinnamasta, the forceful thunderclap that results in the beginning of time (Kali) and space (Bhuvaneshwari) and arises from the tapas of intense concentration of Non-Being (Bhairavi). The coming into Being would be purposeless if it had full knowledge of its origin from Non-Being and its true nature as that Non-Being (Creator). A movie is best enjoyed when we lose ourselves in it and identify completely with the characters in it! Thus, Chinnamasta results in “cutting off” of this knowledge of our true nature. However, when the Creator creates, He descends into it and becomes the very thing. Thus, Creation (Being) is never actually cut off from the Creator; it is just that the spark of self-awareness remains embedded in ignorance. Dhumavati represents this darkness of ignorance; however, She is not totally black in color but is depicted as being of a smoky hue due to the spark of light that remains embedded in the darkness. Her ugly appearance represents the ignorance-bound distortion of truth. Moreover, this ignorance is so deep-seated that the witness principle that is always present as self-awareness also remains obscured. This witness principle is Shiva (Purusha). Since Shiva appears to be nonexistent in this dense ignorance, Dhumavati is depicted as a widow. Mythological stories describe Dhumavati consuming her consort (Shiva) in Her insatiable hunger, which is the power of the force of ignorance (greed, lust, hatred, cruelty and so on). Dhumavati willingly houses Herself deep in matter, driving evolution through increasing degrees of self-awareness from inconscient forms to animal life forms to humans.

On an individual level, Dhumavati represents the inertia and tamas that weighs us down again and again. Even after prolonged sadhana, the darkness that lies hidden deep within the subconscious can (and does) continue to haunt us. As long as we desire to transcend Her force, She will continue to taunt us, for Hers is not a force to be transcended but surrendered to. In several forms of sadhana, the focus is to plunge deep into the very source of ignorance. In this inquiry, one can dive deep into the dark Void of Non-Being (Dhumavati). This Void takes us away from the pain of existence and here we experience deep peace and bliss. It is tempting to stay here, away from the other darkness of our hidden demons (also Dhumavati). Thus, She is both the darkness of ignorance as well as the merciful darkness of the Void. Like Her winnow that holds the grain along with its impurities of stones and dirt, She holds both of these aspects of darkness within Her austere form. When this Void is known, there is often the strong temptation to remain here, to not engage in life at all and to view the world to be a non-existent illusion (Maya). This nihilistic viewpoint drains one of “juice” and sooner or later, Dhumavati emerges again, bringing up all the submerged stuff of our unresolved darkness. In this, Dhumavati’s compassion is unmatched. Her insistence upon our full processing and embracing of our dark side is manifested so that we can sever all those filaments in the cord of  our perceived separation from the Creator. Neither plunging into nihilism nor standing separate from life will do – all of it must be seen as the play of the One in the Many. The Creator does not stand apart from His Creation – He becomes one with it. Therefore, the true meaning of Maya is that the world appears to be a certain way due to distortion of truth; it is not that the world does not exist. This distortion of truth (Maya) is the result of avidya (ignorance of the true nature of Being).

How must we worship Dhumavati in inner sadhana? Her worship is that of allowing and opening to all that arises within and without. On the path of self-inquiry, we first learn to abide in the sense of “I Am” prior to thought. Over time, there is a gradual shift of identity from being a person to being this witness prior to body and mind. Further, there is a sense of a greater witnessing that is even beyond this I-sense that can on occasion lead to experience of the great Void. As we rest here, the advice of the sages is to “stop doing” – the doing of a deliberate practice such as bringing attention to this or that or manipulating the arising experience in any way. Inner stillness is the necessary requisite for the welcoming of Dhumavati. Remaining still, we allow all thoughts, emotions, reactions and stories to arise as and when they do. Instead of getting engaged in the story, we notice the arising with curiosity and “do nothing” to force the thought or emotion away. The energy of the stuff is deeply allowed to arise “as is”, without engagement by the mind, without labeling. The energy of the fear, shame, guilt, anger and the rest of the “darkness” is embraced fully in the loving space of “not doing”. All these aspects that were pushed away are welcomed into the stillness, and fully acknowledged to be our very own self, just as the so-called positive aspects are. They are all equally us. Every time these aspects are fully allowed and embraced thus, there is a deep relaxation that occurs that can be felt in the body, like the uncoiling of a tightly wound spring. This inner practice goes on all the time, even when engaged in outer activity. In every moment, we can welcome our reactions and conditioned mind into this vast Void – Dhumavati is known as the darkness within darkness. This welcoming and loving embrace of our darker/shadow selves is the alchemical process where Dhumavati as Alakshmi transforms into Lakshmi. Thus, as this great Void, She is the Non-Being prior to existence (the evolution of sadhana) and that which remains after its dissolution (“doing nothing”).

In this sweetness of self-acceptance, surrender to the great silent Void and inner intimate worship, Dhumavati, the great compassionate Mother graces us with the fortitude to come to the presence of the next Mahavidya, Bagalamukhi.

Image Source: exoticindiaart.com