Silence through boredom

The hand gesture of wisdomThe second 40-Day Meditation Challenge of 2012 at Bound Lotus started earlier this week and Sofie and I joined the meditation this morning. The first 40-Day Meditation focused on the first chakra (or energy centre); the second one fittingly concentrates on the second chakra.

The mantra (or meditative phrase) we’re using for this Meditation Challenge is the Kundalini seed mantra: Har hare haree; Wahe guru (pronounced: Har haray haree; Wha-hay guroo – with kind of a silent “d” after the har). We’re repeating the mantra for 11 minutes – chanting along to the version by Gurudass from Longing to Belong. This meditation also involves holding guyan mudra (the hand gesture for wisdom – shown in the photo at right) and moving our arms. It’s a trifecta of techniques for meditative concentration; chanting the mantra, holding the mudra, and repeating the arm movements.

I find manta meditations very effective at clearing my brain and finding internal silence. Chanting the same sounds over and over again pretty much bores my brain to death and stops me from thinking. The Sanskrit syllables don’t connect with any meaning like English words might and my mind starts to let go of everything but the mantra.

Adding in holding a mudra and repeating arm movements, further drives out any thoughts and helps bring my mind to stillness.

I’ve compiled a list of other musical mantras I like for meditation, which are great to chant along with or have playing during meditation. I also like having mantras playing while I do other tasks like food prep or dishes; I often find myself chanting along and finding a bit of stillness as I cook!

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Open your heart

A non-modified fish poseIn honour of Valentine’s Day, I’m teaching a heart-opening sequence in my 8:15pm Yin Yoga class at Bound Lotus ♥. The flow I’ve put together starts off with supported fish pose. The traditional version of fish (known as Matsyasana in Sanskrit) is an amazing chest opener and the modified version of the posture is more decadent and restorative, but still impactful.

Fish is all about reaching your chest up, while relaxing your lower body. Detailed instructions for getting into supported fish (and getting out!) follow.

If legs up the wall is the one pose I think everyone should do after a lower body workout (running, cycling, hiking, walking in heels), then fish is certainly the one pose I’d suggest for releasing any emotional issues (my friend and fellow teacher Nadine likely agrees 🙂 ). Holding fish pose (and supported fish) can dispel all kinds of long-held chest-tension, which sometimes leads to a huge emotional release (read: it’s totally okay to cry while/after doing fish).

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Supported fish pose

Why it’s good

  • Increases lung capacity, which makes it great for asthmatics and athletes, and flushes mucus from the lungs
  • Corrects the tendency to round shoulders, which collapses the energy centre at the heart (anahata chakra), and breaks up tension in the mid- and upper-back
  • Strengthens and gently tones the muscles along your spine
  • Stretches abdominal muscles and creates internal space for internal organs
  • Lots of emotional and energetic benefits
    • Activates the throat energy centre (vishudda chakra), which is related to the way you express yourself
    • Releases grief and helps dispel old emotions by opening the heart energy centre (anahata chakra)

How to do it

  • Sit on your mat with knees bent, feet on the floor; snug the short end of a bolster against your lower back/buttocks – you can also use a firm pillow or rolled blanket if you don’t have a bolster
    • Using a bolster eases pressure and demand on your back muscles; the closer you place the bolster to your buttocks, the greater the stretch
  • Use your arms and hands to slowly lower your back, neck, and head onto the bolster
    • If your head doesn’t rest rest on the bolster, pillow, or rolled blanket, bring in another prop to support it
    • If the stretch is too intense in your lower back, place a foam chip block, pillow, or folded blanket under your buttocks
  • Straighten your legs along the mat; bring your heels together and let your big toes relax to the sides, forming the shape of a fishtail with your feet
  • Rest your arms on the floor, at least 45° away from your body, and turn your palms up
  • Tuck your chin into your chest slightly; relax your jaw, throat, and shoulders; disengage the muscles in your abdomen, hips, and legs
  • Settle into the pose; inhaling deeply into your chest and relaxing your shoulders, hips, and legs with each exhale
  • Remain still for up to 10 minutes, breathing smoothly and feeling your chest expand and contract with each breath

To come out of supported fish:

  • Bend your knees and rest your feet flat on the floor
  • Roll to side off the bolster into fetal pose; take a deep breath in fetal pose before removing the bolster and any other props used
  • Release any tension in your back by holding your knees into your chest and rolling on your back
  • It’s nice to link fish to a forward fold (like butterfly or caterpillar) or a reclining twist to counter the backward bend

 

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Celebrating day 41

Laura celebrating day 41 with pink fizzyCompleting 40 consecutive days of sat kriya and an accompanying 40 days without alcohol obviously means celebrating with pink fizzy wine (Summerhill Cipes Rose to be precise) in the tub.

At points, doing without a glass of wine felt harder than getting to the studio to do the meditation, but two weeks in, wine was the furthest thing from my mind. The bottle of white in the fridge was easy to ignore and abstaining while other people were enjoying wine or beer wasn’t a challenge.

That being said, days two, eight, and 12 without liquor were the hardest. On day 12, it felt like the relatively small problems I’d experienced during the day would have been instantly fixed with a glass of wine; instead I had a good friend cheer me up (yay for Scott!) and enjoyed some TheatreSports. Who needs booze?

On balance, I think I’m happier having a glass of wine when I want one (which isn’t usually in the bathtub on Sunday morning 🙂 ), but it’s nice to know that I have the willpower to get me through days two, eight, and 12 without giving in to temptation.

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Mission Accomplished!

After 40 days of the Sat Kriya meditationAlthough, in the tradition of Dubya, it’s really only half done smile emoticon I finished the 40-Day Meditation Challenge this morning, but have one last evening of abstaining from alcohol to go.

This morning’s meditation at Bound Lotus felt so positive and uplifting; there was a wonderful energy in the space. I know that the last iteration of sat kriya this evening will be even better and I hope that everyone else who did this meditation challenge feels amazing – whether they meditated for four days or 40.

By day 40, I no longer found 11 minutes of sat kriya physically demanding (other than a twinge in my left shoulder when lowering my arms), but the mental challenge was certainly still present. I know clearing my mind will likely remain easier said than done, but practice will keep making it better.

With the end in sight, this last week was a struggle. It felt great meditating in a group on Monday after going solo for the weekend, but by Wednesday, I was ready to be done. Like really done.

Thankfully, my willpower kicked in and I made it to the studio for the remaining meditations. And today I came home from my 40th day of meditation, ate a healthy breakfast, cleaned the house, did my physio exercises, and got on the indoor cycling trainer afterwards! No signs of my willpower being exhausted!

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Talking mental health

About a year ago I was at a serious low point. I was in a stressful job that didn’t align with my beliefs. I worked long hours, took too much on, and kept increasing the pressure on myself. I neglected my health and let the stress impact just about every aspect of my life. I didn’t feel “good enough” and struggled with social interactions because I didn’t see myself as interesting or worthy of spending time with. I was angry, very self-critical, and I cried a lot. I didn’t like who I had become and I didn’t like the direction I was going.

I was taking anti-anxiety medication and talking with a counsellor, but things still looked bleak. My doctor suggested anti-depressants months before when he prescribed the anti-anxiety medication, but I refused to acknowledge that I couldn’t fight my way out of this mess on my own.

When I went on leave from work at the end of February things got even worse. Through March, I wallowed in the depression and struggled to do more with my days than eat toast and watch Friends on DVD. I had to accept help and started taking anti-depressants while continuing with talk therapy.

Sofie making Laura smileIt took months of trial and error to get the anti-depressants right for me; there were many backslides and bad days. I came to recognize the early warning signs of sinking back into depression (the desire to eat nothing but toast, the indent of my butt on the couch, the resistance to being still in yoga, the obsession with weighing myself, the negative self-talk and judgement) and started to recognize that it was okay to ask for help.

Throughout the process of getting mentally healthy (or at least healthier), I’ve had incredible support. My husband has been outstanding. My parents have been incredible. My brother, his fiancee and my sister-in-law have been wonderful. My friends, new ones and old, have been accepting and encouraging. My now-former colleagues and boss have been understanding. My doctor and counsellor have been exceptional. And our dog, Sofie, constantly reminds me that there are many reasons to be happy and that a snuggle makes the world better. I could not have gotten here without help.

I’m still on anti-depressants, although I can now see a future where I won’t need them. I’ve come to understand that using anti-depressants does not make me weak; it was refusing help and denying there was a problem that made me suffer.

My struggle with self-acceptance and feeling “good enough” continues. I am, however, far happier and healthier and I like myself again. Learning to be gentle with myself and being comfortable in stillness has been a challenge. I’m still trying to rein in my A-type tendencies and let the world unfold as it will.

Today is Bell Let’s Talk Day, which invites people to talk about mental illness to help fight the stigma. You may have seen the ads with Canadian Olympian Clara Hughes, who discusses her own mental health struggles in Wednesday’s Globe and Mail. As much as I’m wary of corporate giant Bell using mental health as a publicity-grab, I can’t deny that talking about depression and mental health issues is a good thing.

I’ve been candid with people in my life about my mental health issues and I encourage everyone to continue talking about mental illness; not just on February 8, but every day.

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Updated mellow music list

A few new mellow tunes that I’ve added into the rotation. Take a look at the Listen page for a full list of songs that are great for a yoga practice and at the Meditate page for meditation music I recommend. Click on the iTunes button to purchase a specific song.

  • Holding a Heart by Girl Named Toby Holding a Heart - We Are - EP
  • Long Time Sun by Snatam Kaur Long Time Sun - Celebrate Peace
  • Never Ending Road (Amhrán Duit) by Loreena McKennitt Never Ending Road (Amhrán Duit) - An Ancient Muse
  • Where are you Going? by Dave Matthews Band Where Are You Going - Busted Stuff
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Updated meditation music

Some new favourite songs for meditation. Click on the iTunes button to purchase a specific song.

  • Gobinday Mukunday by Sada Sat Kaur Gobinday Mukanday - Mantra Masala
    A quicker, more energizing version of the ”Git ‘er done” mantra. Good for reviving the spirit and enhancing energy.
  • Mul Mantra by Snatam Kaur Mul Mantra - Anand Bliss
    The February Full Moon Meditation at Bound Lotus Meditation & Yoga Centre was the mul mantra. I think this is the most beautiful version of it – very heart-centred and grounding.
  • Ong Namo – I Bow by Gurunam Singh Ong Namo - I Bow - The Journey Home
    Also called the Adi Mantra, chanting Ong Namo Guru Dev Namo starts off every Kundalini yoga class. It’s a reminder to honour (or bow to) all the teachers that came before and the wisdom that lives within.
  • Pavan Guru – Lord of the Wind by Gurunam Singh Pavan Guru - Lord of the Wind - The Journey Home
    The “May the Force be with You” mantra, Pavan Guru increases energy and stimulates healing.

See the Meditate page for a full list of meditation music I like.

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Full moon listening

Laura holding half moon poseThe beautiful Mul Mantra meditation last night at Bound Lotus in honour of the full moon inspired me to update the song lists on the meditate and listen pages. I’ve added a few new favourites and created a list of music I like to use for savasana.

The full moon can be a time of increased energy and mental activity. It’s also just an amazing time to be out at night – particularly with the current clear weather we’re having!

I’m subbing the 8:15pm Yin Yoga class this evening at Bound Lotus. Come join me for a delightful full moon class and, of course, a beautiful relaxation in savasana afterwards!

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Weekend warrior

Laura holding Warrior II at Mosquito CreekAfter my Friday evening yin yoga class at Bound Lotus, I was lucky enough to escape the city for a weekend away with friends. The time away (even though we didn’t go far) was fabulous. Nothing like a bit of time away from the usual routine to refuel and reconnect.

Great food, great company, great weather… and the Superbowl on Sunday. Amidst all the eating and relaxing I managed to do my sat kriya meditations on Saturday and Sunday (despite the smell of smoking meat for the Superbowl feast threatening my concentration!) and do a lovely hatha sequence – complete with Warrior II.

My contribution to the amazing food came in the form of homemade cinnamon buns. The recipe is a holdover from my eight months or so eating vegan, but you’d never miss the eggs and dairy. If you’re not concerned about keeping animal products out of the cinnamon buns, I’m sure butter would work in place of the vegan margarine.

Vegan cinnamon buns

Ingredients
Dough

  • 1 cup plain almond milk
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 2 1/2 tsp instant yeast
  • 2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups white bread flour *
  • 1 tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 tbsp ground flax
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup melted soft vegan margarine (such as Earth Balance in the tub)

* You can also use 4 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour if you don’t have bread flour. The bread flour just ups the gluten content which means the buns rise a bit more and are chewier.

Filing

  • 1/3 cup soft vegan margarine (like Earth Balance from the tub)
  • 1 1/2 cups dark brown sugar
  • 3 tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Method

  • Warm the milk just enough to still be able to dip your finger in it – microwaving it at 60% for a minute seems to work well
    • If the milk is too hot it will kill the yeast, so heat the milk slowly
  • Add the sugar to the warmed milk and stir; add the yeast and let proof for 10 minutes
    • The yeast/milk/sugar mixture should get foamy on top of the milk; if the mixture doesn’t froth, get new yeast and try again
  • While the yeast is proofing, measure the flour and cinnamon into a large bowl and set aside
  • Combine the ground flax seeds and water and whip with a hand-mixer or stick blender until it gets thick and frothy
  • When the yeast is proofed, pour in the melted margarine, vanilla extract, and flax mixture and stir gently to combine
  • Add the wet mixture to the flour and mix the dough until most of it has come together
  • Turn out the dough on a lightly floured surface and knead it for 5 to 10 minutes; you know the dough is well-kneaded when it’s smooth and soft with an elastic texture
  • Let the dough rest for 5 minutes while you wash the large bowl and tidy up the kitchen
  • Place the dough in the now-clean bowl and cover with a tea towel that’s been run under hot water and wrung out; set the bowl in a warm place (like a sunny window or on top of a warm dryer – I often wash towels while baking yeast breads so the laundry room is nice and warm) and let rise for at least 30 minutes or until the dough ball has doubled in size
  • Make the filling by combining the soft margarine with the brown sugar and cinnamon; set aside until the dough is rolled out and ready for the filling
  • Once the dough has risen the first time, turn it out of the bowl onto a lightly floured surface and lightly punch it into a rectangle
  • Stretch and roll the dough into a rectangle that is 1/4 inch thick and roughly 16 by 20 inches
  • Once the dough is rolled out, spread the cinnamon filling evenly over the dough, leaving a 2″ naked margin on one of the long edges of the rectangle
    • The naked edge is important because it will stick to the outside of the dough once you’ve rolled it up and seal in your filling
  • Pick up one of the short edges of the dough and roll the dough into a log; make sure the roll is equal in thickness by adjusting the position of the dough as you roll
    • The whole roll should be about 3″ in diameter
  • Gently grasp the dough with both hands and adjust the length by slightly lifting it off the rolling surface; you can also squeeze the roll gently to even out the thickness
  • Use a sharp knife to cut the dough into 8 roughly equal rolls
  • Line a 9”x12” baking pan with the parchment paper, with the long ends of the paper hanging over the edge of the pan
  • Turn the rolls on their ends and transfer them to the pan; position the rolls so they touch each other, rather than the sides of the pan, with the seams turned inwards so the rolls don’t unravel during rising or cooking
  • Cover the pan with the damp tea towel again, re-rinsed in hot water and wrung out; let the buns rise in a warm spot again for 30 minutes, or until they have doubled in size
  • Preheat the oven to 400F
  • When the buns are finished their second rising, bake them 15-20 minutes, or until they’re light golden brown and cooked through
  • Separate the buns while they’re still warm and let them cool on a wire rack – putting wax paper under the rack catches any cinnamon filling drips and makes clean-up a lot easier
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Songs for savasana

These songs are particularly lovely for that beautiful relaxation period at the end of a yoga practice. Click on the iTunes button to purchase a specific song.

  • Aad Guray by Deva Premal Aad Guray - Dakshina
  • Awake My Soul by Mumford and Sons Awake My Soul - Sigh No More
  • Into the West by Howard Shore & Annie Lennox Into the West - The Lord of the Rings - The Return of the King (Soundtrack from the Motion Picture)
  • Keep Breathing by Ingrid Michaelson Keep Breathing - Be OK
  • Long Time Sun by Snatam Kaur Long Time Sun - Celebrate Peace
  • Never Ending Road (Amhrán Duit) by Loreena McKennitt Never Ending Road (Amhrán Duit) - An Ancient Muse

Visit the Listen and Meditate pages full lists of songs that are great for a yoga practice or for meditation

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