When I look at amniotic fluid, I am looking at rain falling on orange groves. I am looking at melon fields, potatoes in wet earth, frost on pasture grasses. The blood of cows and chickens is in this tube. The nectar gathered by bees and hummingbirds is in this tube. Whatever is inside hummingbird eggs is also inside my womb. Whatever is in the world's water is here in my hands. ~ Sandra Steingraber
We come to know the world through our senses -- seeing, touching, hearing, smelling, tasting -- and through the knowing faculty of the mind. So today, we will begin our mindfulness practice by bringing our full attention to these senses, one by one, as we experience eating one raisin mindfully.
You might find this meditation a little odd. However, from a mindfulness perspective a little novelty can serve us well, waking us from habitual ways of seeing that can come between us and our direct experience of living. Thus, we are going to experiment with bringing beginner's mind to this experience, as if you were a newborn baby and had never seen a raisin before because, in truth, you have never seen this raisin before.
So, let's begin. As promised, here is the first mindfulness meditation practice from one of the books we have been working with: Mindful Birthing: Training the Mind, Body, and Heart for Childbirth and Beyond, by Nancy Bardacke.
For this practice, you will need the following:
If you followed the instructions above, you have just eaten one raisin mindfully, bringing focused attention to each moment, observing the three pillars of experience: body sensations, thoughts, and emotions. There is much to learn from this meditation, and after you have practiced it, please spend some time processing your experience and perhaps sharing your experience with me in the comments below.
Becoming Aware of Interconnectedness
There's another important aspect of this meditation: becoming aware of interconnectedness. It can be helpful to think of mindful awareness as a lens. Sometimes we use it in a very focused way, as we just did with the raisin, using all our senses to observe every detail of our experience. And sometimes we widen the lens of mindfulness so that our awareness expands to take in the bigger picture. We nurture both of these aspects of awareness as we practice.
In this wider, more spacious view, we become aware of the larger context of being, in which we can see how everything is interconnected. Sometimes called, "looking deeply," this aspect of practice helps us become aware of the multitude of causes and conditions that are a very real part of our experience in this very moment. If you would like to experience this more expansive view, I invite you to follow along with a second set of Raisin Meditation instructions next time, in my next blog post. ❤ ~ Ashley
The World in a Raisin - A Mindfulness Meditation on Interconnectedness
~ IN THE MEANTIME, TAKE A LOOK AT THIS LITTLE YOGI ~
Bardacke, Nancy. Mindful Birthing: Training the Mind, Body, and Heart for Childbirth and Beyond. HarperOne, 2012.
Do you recall how a few days ago, I wrote a bit about Pranayama: Breathing - Lesson 1, and I provided a recording with a lecture about the importance of breath awareness and deep breathing? And how I also gave the instructions to our first pranayama practice, Yogic Breathing?
I have been practicing Yogic Breathing now for a few days. It has not been easy haha. My mind really likes to wander around! So... In the following video, I chose to share this morning's pranayama experience with you in order to discuss the following issues that I have had (and perhaps you have had as well???) Am I alone here in the struggle? ;)
Anyways, if you find yourself wandering a bit or struggling too, then you're not alone! We will get through it together by practicing daily and by remembering to kindly and gently bring our attention back to the breath.
Please let me know how you are doing! Comment in solidarity haha.
In the meantime, please enjoy watching me confess my own struggles. And please consider taking advantage of the written instructions to Yogic Breathing that I've included for you below. :) Don't forget, you could also listen to the recording if you wished via the last blog post. The practice starts around 18:00, I think. OH. And if you're an email recipient of this post, you'll have to click on the link below in order to view the video. ~ Ashley
The Struggle is Real, But Temporary
Inhale slowly by allowing your abdomen to expand.
Try to breathe so slowly that little or no sound of breath can be heard.
At the end of the abdominal expansion, start to expand your chest outwards and upwards.
At the end of this movement draw your collarbone and shoulders toward your head.
This completes 1 inhalation.
The whole process should be one continuous movement, each phase of breathing merging into the next, without there being any obvious transition point.
There should be no jerks or unnecessary strain. Your breathing should be like the swell of the sea.
The rest of the body should be relaxed. Now start to exhale.
First relax your collarbone and shoulders.
Then allow your chest to move, first downwards towards the feet and then inwards.
After this allow the abdomen to contract.
Don't strain but try to empty the lungs as much as possible by drawing or pulling the abdominal wall as near as possible to the spine.
Again the whole movement should be a harmonious whole.
This completes 1 round of yogic breathing.
Hold your breath for a second or two at the end of each inhalation and exhalation.
Inhale and do another round.
Do up to 5 rounds on your first day of practice.
Every day increase your practice by 2 rounds, or as time permits.
Ten minutes yogic breathing is a reasonable length of time to eventually aim at. With enough practice you will find that the whole movement will occur naturally. No effort will be required.
It is written in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, the ancient text on yoga:
"Life is the period between one breath and the next; a person who only half breathes, only half lives. He who breathes correctly, acquires control of the whole being." ~ Swami Satyananda Saraswati
In yoga it is said that each person has a fixed number of breaths allocated to him. If one breathes slowly then one will live longer, for the number of breaths is allocated for the lifetime; if one breathes rapidly the given number of breaths are used up more quickly resulting in a shorter life span. Whether you accept this idea or not, there is nevertheless a great deal of truth in it. A fast breathing rate is associated with tension, fear, worry, etc. which tends to lead to bad health, unhappiness, and of course a short life. A person who breathes slowly is relaxed, calm and happy, which is conducive to longevity.
Breathing is a process that we rarely give any thought to. It occurs automatically without our awareness, yet at the same time it is often something that most people do incorrectly. If breathing is a spontaneous function of the body, how is it possible to do it incorrectly? The answer lies with our respiratory muscles which become lazy over time and cease to give optimum inhalation and exhalation (23).
How can we change the way we breathe in order to feel more relaxed, calm and happy in our day-to-day lives?
Let's continue with our journey into Kriya Yoga
To update our new readers (Hi Hannah!), over the last many blogs, we have been reading and working through two books. "A Systematic Course in the Ancient Tantric Techniques of Yoga and Kriya" by Satyananda Saraswati and another book titled, “Mindful Birthing: Training the Mind, Body, and Heart for Childbirth and Beyond" by Nancy Bardacke. In the last couple posts, we have mostly focused on building a healthy pre-meditation routine via the first yoga asana program found within the Kriya book. One (time) option for the program looks like this:
So far, I have also provided a presentation that includes photos of each individual asana/pose listed above (except for Naukasana - I'll explain that pose soon). Then I followed those items up with a brief demonstration of the poses as well as a quick Q&A regarding it. (Jala Neti information can be found here).
Let's review the breathing/pranayama portion of our Kriya Yoga program before we move on to the second lesson! :) I'm amazed at the progress I've made so far with this book. I literally feel like I am participating in my own yoga training. How do you feel about it? Feel free to comment and let me know :)
Below, you will find either a link (for email subscribers) or an audio tool (for web viewers). The audio includes our first pranayama practice! In the first half (1:00-18:00) of the recording, I take a moment to read the portion of the chapter that discusses the following important pieces of information:
Then lastly, I lead an exploration into what it means to really breathe. We break down what it means to experience abdominal breathing, middle breathing, upper breathing and finally, yogic breathing. Please feel free to skip the first half if you like, but once you get to the descriptions of the different methods of breathing, I suggest a careful listen. Sometimes these lectures have so much wonderful information and context, so if you do happen to skip the first part but are left wondering if you missed something, then perhaps give it a full listen.
A few minutes of yogic breathing daily can work wonders. It will make you much less susceptible to illness, and you will acquire more power, vitality and calmness in your daily activities. Your thinking and clarity of thought will improve.
The deep systematic yogic breathing will tend to retrain breathing nerve reflexes that may have ceased to be active by lack of use. In other words, at present you might be breathing only from the chest, hardly using the abdomen at all. Yogic breathing will start to make you breathe abdominally, intercostally and clavicularly during the day, and therefore, allow you to inhale the full amount of air that your body requires for nourishment and good health.
To develop the yogic breathing as an automatic and normal function of the body, try to develop the habit of consciously breathing yogically for a few seconds or minutes. If you feel tired or angry, sit down, or if possible lie down, and practice yogic breathing. If you can breathe slowly then your mind will become calm and revitalized.
Please, let me know if you practiced the recommended five Yogic breaths to start and how it made you feel. And don't forget, tomorrow, add two more breaths and so on. ~ Ashley
What Are We Going to Do Next?
The World in a Raisin: A Mindfulness Meditation
Saraswati, Satyananda. A Systematic Course in the Ancient Tantric Techniques of Yoga and Kriya. Yoga Publications Trust, 2013.
Since I began this re-journey into Kriya Yoga via the amazing book, “A Systematic Course in the Ancient and Tantric Techniques of Yoga and Kriya” by Swami Satyananda Saraswati, I have seen a remarkable difference in my hips, back, and overall psyche. I have also had a number of questions come up. For example, I wondered:
I’ve answered some of those ponderings down below in this first video. And, in the second sped up video, I’ve demonstrated the asana portion of the practice in its entirety.
I WAS THINKING... if you have time now in your quarantine routine, and if maybe you would like to catch up and do the practice together, please reach out to me! I’m happy to walk you through the whole program from lesson one of our book. :)
Hi! Long Time, No See
If you happen to be a subscriber to my little blog, then you are probably receiving this in your email box instead of say, viewing it from my website. If that's the case, then most likely these videos don't actually appear in your email. That's because Mailchimp (the company I use to send out this blog via email) doesn't like the formatting of this video. I have no idea how to change that. What I do know is another solution. Click on the Links/Buttons below :) ~ Ashley
Yogic science gives as much importance to certain cleansing processes as it does to asanas or pranayama. Without regular cleansing of the system you will not gain maximum benefits from your practices. Without purification of the body one will not be ready for the higher practices of yoga. When the body is free the mind also functions properly.
Body cleansing is gained through the practice of shatkarmas or the six purificatory techniques. Shatkarmas are excellent practices, which are designed to purify the whole body and bring about first class health. They also bring clarity and harmony to the mind. They are very important from the point of view of physical and mental health, and these simple techniques are also highly valuable in healing internal disorders. Today I will share with you one of the main groups of shatkarmas or yogic cleanses: Neti.
What is Jala Neti? Jala neti is a process of cleaning the nasal passage with salt water, and is essential in allowing free breathing as required in many yoga practices, as well as in helping to ensure your good health.
What are the functions of the nose? The nose is the body’s organ for ensuring that the air that enters the lungs is of sufficient purity and warmth not to cause harm. The air that we inhale is rarely suitable for entry into the lungs. It is generally too cold, too dirty and too germ-ridden. It is the function of the nose to rectify this situation.
First of all, the air we breathe contains dust and small insects. These larger impurities are initially screened out by the vibrating hairs at the entrance to the nasal passages. These hairs vibrate in the opposite direction to the air as it enters the nose and prevents impurities from proceeding further.
In the deeper regions of the nose there are special body structures that are covered with a thick, spongy, germicidal mucus membrane, through which circulates a large, rich supply of blood. The mucus membrane follows a long winding air passage which ensures that all the inhaled air comes in contact with the membranes. These mucus membranes remove millions of germs that are contained in the air and which could cause the lungs much harm, and in fact do in the case of pulmonary tuberculosis, bronchitis, etc. This mucus membrane also removes small particles of dust that have passed through the first defense of the hairs. This membrane both heats and moistens the air to a level that will not harm the lungs. Cold and dry air can result in much injury to the lungs.
Deeper in the nose there are a set of glands which further help to eliminate germs that have managed to escape the previous defenses. Additionally, our sense of smell prevents us inhaling noxious gases. As soon as we smell something unpleasant we immediately stop breathing, or if possible seek clean, fresh air.
By now the reader should be aware of the importance of the seemingly insignificant organ – the nose. It should also be obvious why it is so unhealthy to breathe continually through the mouth as so many people do. When air is inhaled through the mouth instead of the nose, it escapes all the mechanisms of the nose which prepare the air for admittance to the lungs. All the dust, germs, cold and dry air directly enter the lungs. The mouth and throat do have mechanisms for removing these impurities and air conditions, but they are nowhere nearly as efficient as the nose.
If the nose is blocked, or if the mucus membranes are profusely covered in impurities, then the nose cannot perform its duties effectively. In fact if the nose is completely blocked, then one is forced to breathe through the mouth. And we have already explained the disadvantages of this process. This is the reason why we blow our nose to operate efficiently. However, the normal nose blowing does not remove all impurities. Ingrained, dry mucus can remain. This is one of the reasons that the practice of neti was developed: to ensure the best possible cleaning of the nose.
There are other reasons for the use of neti such as the stimulation of various nerve endings in the nose; this leads to improvement in the brain and organs to which these nerves connect and also helps in the stimulation of ajna chakra, the midbrain psychic center.
Equipment - What kind of equipment do we need? A pot or lota (pitcher) should be used to introduce salt water into the nostrils. There are various designs and even a teapot can be used if nothing else is available. I recommend the shape of the pot to be as shown in the provided picture at the top of this blog. This pot is known as a neti lota. It can be made of brass or any other suitable material which does not contaminate water, but the important thing to remember is that the nozzle on the end of the spout should be suitably sized so that the end fits comfortably into your nostril.
Salt Water - How do we prepare the salt water? The water used in the practice should be pure and lukewarm; body temperature is the ideal temperature for pouring the water into your nose. The water should then be mixed with clean salt in the proportion of one teaspoonful per half liter of water. Make sure the salt is fully dissolved in the water.
People often wonder why salt water is introduced into the nostrils instead of ordinary water. The reason is very simple and very practical. Salt water has a much higher osmotic pressure than ordinary water, which means that salt water is not easily absorbed into the delicate blood vessels and membranes in the nose, whereas ordinary water is. If you try this practice with ordinary water you will discover for yourself, in the form discomfort or a little pain in the nose. However, we don’t suggest you do this, though it is not at all dangerous.
In conclusion, salt water is ideal for jala neti, because while it thoroughly cleans the nostrils of impurities it is not absorbed into the delicate nasal membranes. As such no discomfort will be felt when the water flows through the nose.
Posture - What posture should we take? One may either sit in a squatting position known as kagasana, or one may assume a standing position, bending the shoulders and head forwards. This position is most suitable for doing neti into a sink or washbasin, while the other position, kagasana, can be done in the garden or in a shower.
Personally I simply lean over my sink. :)
Let this lady show you how it's done!
Progressively tilt your head to the right side while simultaneously raising the neti pot in such a way that water runs into the left nostril. Make sure that you keep your mouth wide open so that you can breathe. Some people say that the mouth should be closed and the breath held during the practice, but we feel this complicates, especially for beginners, a practice that is essentially very simple. If the pot is in the correct position, if your head is tilted at a suitable angle and if there is a tight fit between the nozzle and the sides of the nose, then the water should flow in through one nostril and out through the other nostril. It doesn’t matter if water flows into your mouth or throat, but if the practice is performed correctly with relaxation this should not happen. Allow the water to flow through the nostrils for 10 to 20 seconds.
Then remove the neti pot and remove the water and impurities from your nose by closing the left nostril and breathing quickly and forcibly through the other nostril. Don’t blow so hard, however, that you damage your nose and cause bleeding. In this respect the practitioner should use his/her discretion.
Now close the right nostril and blow forcibly through the left nostril. Now pour water into the right nostril for about 20 seconds and repeat the same process. Again pour water into each of the nostrils in turn, repeating the same technique just described.
Personally, if I am using a large stainless steel neti pot (which I like to call the Cadillac of netis) I use one half of the water in one nostril, pause to blow, then use the remaining half of the water in the other nostril, pause, blow. Done.
Drying the Nostrils: After completing this practice the nostrils must be dried and any further impurities removed.
Stand erect. Bend forwards so that the trunk assumes a horizontal position. Close one nostril by pressing the side of the nose with the thumb. Breath in and out vigorously up to 10 times in quick succession. The exhalation should be especially emphasized to expel the moisture from the nostrils. Repeat the same procedure with the other nostril closed. Then repeat the same procedure with both nostrils open.
This simple practice should remove most of the moisture from the nose. If moisture remains the vigorous breathing should be repeated until the nose is perfectly dry.
Duration - How long will this take? Once the practitioner is familiar with the technique, the whole process can be completed in a short period of time. Not including preparation of the water, the whole process should take less than five minutes.
Neti is ideally practiced early in the morning before breakfast. However, if necessary, it can be practiced at other times of the day, excepting straight after meals. Once a day is sufficient, though if one has a nasal catarrh, a cold or any other specific ailment, it may be practiced more times.
Limitations and Precautions: People who suffer from chronic bleeding of the nose should not do neti without expert advice. Make sure that the water is not too hot when you introduce it into the nostrils. Do not breathe in and out too deeply when removing the moisture from the nose; we are trying to improve the condition of your nose, not damage it. Also, if sinuses are blocked with mucus, be careful not to blow your nose hard. It is very easy to push the mucus further into the cavities. Ensure that the salt fully dissolves in the water before pouring it into your nose.
Be careful to hold the head correctly and not to hold the neti pot too low. In order for the water to flow into one nostril and out the other, the water level in the pot must be higher than the region at the back of the nose, where the two nostrils merge with each other. If you tilt your head too much then the water will go down your throat instead of the other nostril. If you tilt the pot too much the water will merely overflow out of the pot. You must adjust the position of your head and the pot so that they are at correct levels.
People who have great difficulty passing water through the nose may have a structural blockage such as a polyp. Expert advice should be sought. If there is a slight burning sensation in the nose during your first attempt with salt water, don’t worry. This will disappear as your nose tissue becomes accustomed to contact with water.
Regular practice of neti when you don’t have a cold keeps the nasal passages working at optimum efficiency and thereby helps to maintain a healthy body. Remember, breathing through the mouth or insufficient treatment of the inhaled air prior to entry into the lungs, due to nasal blockage and congestion, can encourage the onset of disease, by allowing germs to infect the lungs, or by generally weakening the state of health in the body.
Neti is also a help in curing sinusitis, ailments of the eyes, nose and throat, tonsillitis, catarrah, as well as inflammation of the adenoids and mucus membranes. It is effective in removing headaches, insomnia and tiredness. Neti has a subtle influence on the various nerves which end in the nasal passages, such as the olfactory bulb and other adjacent nerves which innervate the eyes, ears, etc. This has a very soothing influence on the brain and can help to relieve such ailments as migraine, epilepsy, depression, tension, etc.
Neti helps in no small manner to prevent and cure lung diseases such as asthma, pneumonia, bronchitis, pulmonary tuberculosis, etc., for the reasons already mentioned. Respiration becomes much easier, which leads to an improved intake of oxygen, improved removal of carbon dioxide and consequently better health.
Importance of neti in yogic physiology: The science of yoga maintains that the flow of air in each nostril alternately changes. If you test this for yourself, you will find this to be true. At present one of your nostrils is admitting more air that the other. After some time the other nostril will admit the greater amount of air.
This alternate flow of breath through the two nostrils in turn has a profound influence on the energy cycle of man. It controls our thinking and physical activity, our introversion and extroversion. This cycle has a great bearing on our mental and physical health. Now if one or both of the nostrils are permanently blocked, then this natural alternation of breath flow cannot occur. Our health can suffer. This is another reason why jala neti is so important; it cleans both nostrils and allows the breath to alternate freely between the two.
A Quick Story - My Showdown with Neti
SO THERE I STOOD... Leaning over the bathroom sink, head cocked at a 90* angle, wishing I had a level with which to verify that my forehead was in fact higher than my chin. Then I had this moment. There was this moment when I thought to myself:
Okay, I'm going to do it now.
No... now. Now! ... ... ... ... hmm... ... ... ... ...
Okay, 1....2....3.... Now!
Wait! I need to collect myself.
It's like the moment after you've cut your finger and you are contemplating putting alcohol on it…
Okay, I'm going to pour it NOW…
No… how about now! Maybe if I close my eyes?? Okay, go! Now!
Aaaannnyyy minute now.
But you keep hesitating! It's like there is a completely confused survival mechanism inside of you saying, "DO NOT POUR THAT STINGING ALCOHOL ON YOUR CUT. IT WILL HURT!" But at the same time you know deep down inside that in order to clean a wound, you have to momentarily suppress your will to live.
The same is true of your first time neti pot use. :)
There is something inside of you saying, "Do not pour that teapot full of water up your nose. That is a bad idea." But then you also kind of know it's probably helpful. You just need to bite the bullet!
Well… I stood frozen for a few minutes. I started breathing through my mouth, lifted the pot, and poured. I bit the bullet and I am here to tell you that exactly one eternity passed between the moment the water entered my right nostril and the moment it started flowing out of my left. I was so sure in the moment of eternity that water would soon be leaking out of my eye sockets, and that this was how it would all end for me… Me, slumped over the bathroom sink, neti pot in hand. Toast… death by neti pot.
But then it worked! I was pouring water into a hole in my face, and watching it flow out of a different hole in my face, and I thought, "THE HUMAN BODY IS A FREAKING ROCK STAR." And I blew my nose like I've never blown it before. It was glorious! :)
Neti Pot Reviews:
Are some neti pots better than others?
Love is the essence of our life. I have written this blog with love, and I offer it to you, dear reader, with the hope that the suggestions offered here will become a vital part of your self-healing and continued well-being. ~ Ashley
Diet & Nutrition
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